What's wrong with red hair?

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by lightning, Oct 25, 2005.

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  1. lightning Member

    USA English
    In Jacques Brel" Les Bonbons, a young man, trying to disparage a woman named Germaine says " c'est vrai que Germaine ( moins bien que vous) a des cheveux roux, " What do the French think is wrong with red hair? Many people in other cultures find it attractive.
    Dans la chanson de Jacques Brel "Les Bonbons," un garcon dit à sa fille, "Germaine est moins bien que vous; elle a des cheveux roux." Quel est le problème, en France, avec les cheveux roux? Dans des autres pays, on trouve ca très jolis.
    ( Si vous voulez, corrigez mon français. Ca m'aidera à apprendre)
  2. CLEMENTINE Senior Member

    Hi there,

    I do not know why people with red hair have such reputation, but I remember when I was at school, red hair kids were said not to smell good, especially when it was rainy :confused:. I do not know where it is coming from, it is a complete nonsense. Maybe because there are not too many people with red hair (color maybe more common in the UK or Ireland?) and that people usually laugh about those who are differents?
    Does anyone know where such belief is coming from ?
    (FYI: Jacques Brel was from Belgium)

  3. genstandley Member

    South Africa English
    I'm not sure it's just a French thing.I remember that even when I was in school (in South Africa), red hair was frowned upon (especially boys). I think it's because red hair is unusual outside of the UK, and therefore ridiculed.
  4. Michel_bbbb New Member

    Paris, France
    France - French
    Nothing to do with France or French people (Jacques Brel was born in Belgium indeed)... I think that this and a lot of superstitions and negative comments about red-haired people come from the fact that Judas was red-haired...

    By the way, my 5 y.o. boy is red-haired and he is really cute and... he smells like a rose!
  5. Ratona Senior Member

    UK - Eng
    Red hair maybe more common in the UK but here too it is the butt of jokes. Maybe it originates from past Irish-English relations?

    The main things you will get picked on at school for are being fat, wearing glasses and having red hair (apparently).

    Red hair is also known as ginger, which if you change the soft 'g's (as in gel)to harsh ones (as in get) 'ginger' rhymes with minger (an unattractive or disgusting person) so you have the expression 'ginger minger'. [aren´t the rules of English pronounciation great?!]

    They are a dying breed apparently.
  6. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    There's a famous novel by Jules Renard entitled Poil de Carotte. It tells the life of a red-haired young boy despised and humiliated by his mother.

    poil de carotte has since become one of the possible French equivalents for ginger bonce, together with rouquin or rouquemoute.
  7. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    English, Hodgepodge
    I asked my roommate if he liked redheads, and he said, "Non, les roux puent."

    He said it is something they say in France.

    Am a bit nonplussed, as I've never heard this before.


    Post Scriptum. Disclaimer--I do not share above roommate view; redheads are great by me.
  8. lightning Member

    USA English
    This is all very interesting to me and very bizarre. In America many women use henna or dye to color their hair red because it is considered sexy and unusual. Redheads are assumed to be fiery and passionate. Red dye is often called "Roux" so I thought Brel may have meant dyed red hair, but now I understand in in France it's a different story. Autre pays, autre moeurs. Why people with red hair should stink is beyond me.
  9. Benjy

    Benjy Senior Member

    Milton Keynes, UK
    English - English
    heh, this question always makes me laugh. mostly because half my family has red hair (not me.. i have the boring brown hair from my fathers side). it's definitely not liked in england (unless its some weird dyed electric red, then its cool for some reason)/france. if fact once i remember on the way to la rochelle we were on a route nationale in really heavy traffic and there was a car in the lane next to us (c'etait une double voie), a renault espace, filled right up and EVERYONE in the car was jsut staring at my mum and my two brothers. it was really freaky. and it went on for like 15 minutes. in the end we got out towels out and hung them over the windows so they would stop looking at us.
  10. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    English, Hodgepodge
    Hmm. And then there are people like my brother, who has dated almost exclusively redheads, with the exception of one Spanish knockout.

    Speaking of hair, I wonder if France has different coloring standards. In America, I would say my hair is light brown, maybe honey brown. Here it people say "chatins clairs," sometimes blond. No one in America, Britain or Canada would call me blond, whereas in Italy, people have even asked me if I dye my hair. I wonder if this is because dark hair is more common?

  11. massie1

    massie1 Senior Member

    Toronto, Ontario, Canada
    Canada, French and English
  12. lightning Member

    USA English
    This just in from a very erudite red-haired librarian in Finland:
    negative connotations about red hair usually derive
    from as far as middle-ages and the crazy monk who
    wrote "The Witch-hammer". Red hair was supposed to be
    one of the marks left by Devil himself. When a union
    with Devil was made, he left his mark, for example a
    mole or a scar or red hair. Red hair was very, very
    rare and it is usually coupled with pale skin and
    freckles and very low tolerance for sun and heat - as
    it is in my case also. What kind of a person cannot
    bear God's sunlight without getting burned and sick?
    Must be from the Devil!

    But I didn't know redheads stink! On the contrary,
    I've heard that redhaired women smell sweeter than
    others, like vanilla. But maybe it also comes from the
    medieval superstitions and people have forgotten the
    reason why they hate redheads? Or maybe it is because
    redheads don't stand heat and perhaps sweat earlier
    than dark-haired Mediterranean people?
  13. geve

    geve Senior Member

    France, Paris
    France, French
    What an erudite thread about hair ! :thumbsup:

    I don't think there's a paradox in red hair conveying both ideas of sexy and smelly/dirty... It's all a matter of jealousy !
    "Yes, darling, you might think this red-haired woman is very attractive from where you're standing, but you'll soon find out that she smells like an old camembert"... :D

    The same goes for blond hair : would they be so joked about, if it was not to downgrade potentially dangerous competitor ? ;)

    This is my personal opinion, but don't take it too seriously : I'm blond
  14. Written_on_raindrops New Member

    Red hair a long time ago used to be a superstition of being a witch. It has carried on thru tradition, and even tho they no longer associate it with that, it has become a turn off to cultures around the world.
  15. chick n style New Member

    Ecuador español/un poquito de francés e inglés
    :p I agree with raindropps when says it has to do with witches and superstitions. Specially when red hair is mostly related to dwarfs, pixies and another funny (and evil) characters we find in fairy tales. In middle ages people used to think of a person with red hair that was a son of the devil or even his rencarnation. Personally, I like red hair so much that I actually dye my hair with different kinds of red, even though I know I could never get a natural one.

    by the way...

    Where did you get that? I'm just curious...

  16. chick n style New Member

    Ecuador español/un poquito de francés e inglés
    I guess people has to rate everything they don't know by putting it the "devil, stinky or ugly" label....

    by the way...who was that crazy monk???
  17. Jessila

    Jessila Senior Member

    France, french
    I remember as a child hearing stuff like "red hair stink" or red hair kids being called "poil de carotte"... but there were so few of them (red hair kids I mean), that those are just mere memories...

    Yet I would have say the same as some added to this thread... Red hair definitely has something to do (for some reason ^^) with being associated to witchcraft... even now !
    I personnaly loooove red-hair and am so disappointed in it not being my natural color since my skin is so fair and my eyes green :p I've died my hair in red several times, always trying the subtle colors that made it look the most natural as possible... And I remember this one time when I met a few people who all shared an interest in esoterism - I learned afterwards that one of the women had say that her first impression when she saw me was that I was a witch... I was then wearing long and untied red hair loool :D
    Well, I took it for a compliment... I wanted my hair to look natural, and apparently it did ;)

    That being said, I never heard adults say bad comments about red-hair women... And I think it tends to be considered more and more sexy - probably because the colour reminds of flames and therefore of passion and warmth, and so on...
  18. scandalously in love

    scandalously in love Senior Member

    Canada - English
    "You'd find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair," said Anne reproachfully. "People who haven't red hair don't know what trouble is. Mrs. Thomas told me that God made my hair red ON PURPOSE, and I've never cared about Him since."

    ~Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery

  19. Written_on_raindrops New Member

    I do remember at times when i had red hair (dyed of course!) people would ask if I was getting into mischeif..and they refered to the charecter on "Charlie brown"....and I have heard "red heads" are Feisty, and Funny?!..all that due to "red" hair......interesting, but you know what they say about Blondes too!
  20. Valparaiso New Member

    It's true in the US red headed women are considered sexy but red-headed kids still catch hell. I remember when I was little a girl told me I had orange hair. It was very upsetting. It is not easy growing up with red hair but it is ok to be a red headed adult. When I was pregnant I prayed my children would not be born with red hair. Silly huh.

  21. Jessila

    Jessila Senior Member

    France, french
    Funny you mention that anecdote 'cause what you say goes along with what I was just about to ask...
    I mean that if we refer to simple colors, then
    - blond hair --> bright yellow
    - brunette --> brown to black
    - red hair --> orange to light brown

    So how come that when it comes to name that hair color, English say "red hair" and not "orange hair" witch would be much more accurate... I mean obviously red hair are not of the red color...
    Does anybody know 'cause I've been wondering this since the 1997 release of Luc Besson's movie "The Fifth Element"... in which I heard the expression "red hair" for the first time lool :D
  22. Jessila

    Jessila Senior Member

    France, french
    I would really appreciate someone answering my question about the "red" word to desribe that hair colour...
    Anybody ?
  23. Ratona Senior Member

    UK - Eng
    I think it's just one of those differences like goldfish and poisson rouge. One thinks it's a gold or orange colour, the other a red colour.
    Red hair can encapsulate any shade of hair colour that contains a tint of red, afterall, that's the colour that stops them from being blonde or brunette, don't you think?
  24. Jessila

    Jessila Senior Member

    France, french
    Yes, I think I see what you mean... I just found it funny when Valparaiso said that a girl once said she had orange hair, and it upsetted her... I mean oviously to me "red hair" look "orange" but that's what I like about it lol :)
  25. Frenchlover New Member

    U.S.; english
    I understand exactly what Val went through. I have red hair and I never knew people in other countries frowned upon it. Here in the U.S. people are always praising me for it. I also think they call it red hair because it is a color that is sort of in the middle of orange and brown. People have red hair too, not just orange. Trust me my hair is not orange. Does this mean that if I go to france people will look down on me or something negative?
  26. Jessila

    Jessila Senior Member

    France, french
    If you were a child maybe... I don't know how kids react to "red hair" nowadays... but it' really un-common, so the reactions - good or bad - would probably be a bit extreme (not giving a fact here, just a wild guess)

    If you're an adult... I'd be really surprised you get bad comments o reactions... So many women die their hair to achieve even a vague resemblance to what you naturally have ;)
    I say you'd probably be praised... but envied too! lol
  27. *Cowgirl*

    *Cowgirl* Senior Member

    USA English
    Hey guys I have red hair and there is nothing wrong with it! I was never teased (because of my hair), and I don't think that I smell. My brother, sister, mother, and great grandmother also have red hair, and hey, we're all okay.:tick:

    Red heads are often associated with hot tempers as well. (Which can be true in some cases.)
  28. Roi Marphille

    Roi Marphille Senior Member

    Catalonia, Catalan.
    well, my contribution is that I like red-haired girls!
    also blondes, brown-haired, dark-haired...whatever, all of them! :D
  29. Fernando Senior Member

    Spain, Spanish
    Roi and me are competitors in the same broad market.

    The only thing about red woman is there are just a few. Red-haired gene is a recessive one. So you will ever get more blondes and darks than reds.

    And strange people are associated with strange, sexy, ...

    Blonde girls are considered in the South as beautiful, hot and so on. Meanwhile, when I see an American film the dark-haired is the evil hot horny girl who steals the love of the innocent boyfriend.
  30. geve

    geve Senior Member

    France, Paris
    France, French
    what about bald women ??

    So, dark-haired women are evil and red-haired women are devil. I guess this leaves us blondes as the reasonable choice for any (nice and good-looking) man in his right mind. :p
  31. Laia

    Laia Senior Member

    Catalan, Spanish
    yeah jajaja :D :D :D

    And what about men??
  32. Rinias Member

    Washington, DC

    This thread is ridiculous! By which I mean it's great! I'm really impressed by these forums too, there is so much response!

    As for red hair... I know that I like red hair a lot- on certain people- on others it looks kinda funny. But perhaps pointing back to the jealousy/hair-color-jokes note, is it not interesting that there seem to be no English wise-cracks for brunettes/black haired people? Or maybe help me refresh my memory... :D I can't think of a single one... On the other hand, I am much more partial to a dark-brown haired person of the opposite sex than I am to a brown/blond/read-haired person... So maybe someone should start inventing some jokes about brunettes :D

  33. geve

    geve Senior Member

    France, Paris
    France, French
    Hmmm... that might have been a joke, but it's actually an interesting question : it seems to me that there are a lot less connotation on hair color when it comes to men... So, talking about red hair (which is, after all, the topic of this thread !), is there a difference between men and women ?
    If I try to sum up the numerous possible connotations of red hair that were given here : (these are only a-prioris people might have, and not actual facts of course !!)
    Apparently, in most countries (except in the USA ?) red-haired people (both men & women) are associated with
    - a certain smell / sweating more
    - funny/strange
    - witchcraft/devil
    - betrayal / Judas
    - hot temper
    Meanwhile, red-haired women are thought to be sexy / have a specific sex-appeal.

    It seems like it is still a better deal to have red hair when you're a woman... at least you have the quality of the inconvenient. That probably explains why there are more women dying their hair red, than men !
    Voilà. :D

    oh, and another thing while I'm at it : it's the other way around for blond hair : blond-haired men do not suffer from any negative connotations, whereas we all know about dumb blondes... :rolleyes:
  34. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo moderator

    American English
    Every child gets teased for being "different" than the child who is teasing. It's part of the power play of elementary school.... not necessarily related to red hair.

    As Val and lightning have said, in my cultural milieu in the western US, red hair is prized, sought after and coveted as an exotic, attractive trait. I was SHOCKED to learn that it is not so in the rest of the world. :eek:
  35. astronauta Senior Member

    Spain. Spanish (ES, MX) English (UK, CA, US)
    I think red hair is beautiful.
    Gustav Klimt was obsessed with women who had red hair and created the beautiful famous paintings depicting them; so was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the main character of Patrick Suskind's famous novel "Parfum", the latter, sought after them as he believed they had an exquisit scent.

    I have dyed my hair red (too) many times!:D
  36. BasedowLives

    BasedowLives Senior Member

  37. Maria Juanita

    Maria Juanita Senior Member

    And I thought I've read this book three times and still didn't know about this. Maybe is that I have a lousy translation????

    Tnx 4 the tip; I didn't have that info...

    And tnx for the link too, Basedow...

  38. castellano

    castellano Member

    speaker of Castellano
    I have read that in the medieval Castile, in Spain, red-haired people were said to be "possessed by the devil, by Satan".

    This kind of hair is very very strange in Spain; only one out of 10.000 born persons are ginger here.

    Personally, I think this hair colour is very attractive if it´s bright red. Just my opinion :)

  39. amiel_23

    amiel_23 New Member

    Sydney, Australia
    English, Australia
    its weird ey.. my bf's a "red head"... ever noticed how they always come with freckles? maybe its some sorta genetic thingy.. but meh o wel.. i dont care bout that.. red hair is sexy ;)

    i dont think its so much about the witchcraft thing any more... people just use it as a means of putting someone down cos they're different...
  40. InmayHugo

    InmayHugo Member

    Spain- Spanish
    Very interesting thread!!
    In Spain we do not get many red hair people, but generally we like red hair and many women do dye their hair red.
    When I was a child whenever we saw a red hair person we used to say "pelirrojo mala suerte" = red hair, bad luck and we had to touch a button in order to bad luck to go away.
    Look, I have very dark black hair and we are always the mean ones in the movies or books, we seldom get to be sexy or desired for our hair colour.
  41. I.C. Senior Member

    Generally, cliché has it that women with red hair are difficult and temperamental.
    Think I remember hearing that back in the days of the witch-hunts red hair was said to be a possible sign of connection to the devil in Germany, too. But any remarkable deviance from the norm could have turned out to be dangerous in those times, I guess, and if someone didn't show any visible signs of affiliation with the devil - that could be highly suspicious, too, might be one of satan's specially cared for darlings.
  42. judkinsc

    judkinsc Senior Member

    English, USA
    For a bit of history on the Malleus Maleficarum (the original Latin title "The Hammer of Witches", which means "A Hammer to Crush Witches"), its authors, and its impact,
    see below:


    "Two Dominican inquisitors Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer compiled it and submitted the book to the University of Cologne’s Faculty of Theology for their approbation on the 9th of May, 1487"

    Here's another site:

    If you had red-hair, you were a target for the Inquisition and everything that that entailed.
  43. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo moderator

    American English
    Frightening bit about the inquisition.

    After my initial shock wore off, I suddenly remembered an expression in American English that shows that there is at least some negativity towards redheads:

    When someone gets beat very badly in a fight, or if someone hits or beats an object violently and completely, they beat the person/thing "like a red-headed stepchild." :(
  44. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    I can't believe there's been only one scant reference to the connection between red hair and the Celts. Hair and skin combine to give each tribal/ethnic/racial group its own peculiar chemistry-- the attributes of skin that go with Celtic chemistry are its unusually paleness and difficulty in holding a tan, and the mottling of freckles.

    In reacting to people, particularly women, I am much more smell-oriented than most people I've ever known-- from my point of view there is a pheramone thing going on that is much more vivid than "looks." There's a definite pressure in our upbringing and socialization to suppress or ignore olfactory considerations-- if a small child mentions the way someone smells, s/he is swiftly corrected, often harshly. It amazes me how little conscious emphasis other people seem to put on such an important part of human interaction. On the other hand, people's reasons for attraction or repulsion to/from each other is often described as a matter of instinct, or an outright mystery.

    Redheaded women do smell very different from others, and I happen to respond very favorably to the difference-- though in looking back over my life I find it always leads to trouble, bad bad trouble, and I take note that the women I've married have been blondes.

    Celtic culture also antecedes that of Teutonic and other people who supplanted Europe's Celts, swarming in from the Central Asian steppes from as long ago as the bronze age. These blondish people adapted Christianity more unreservedly than the Celts because they were nomadic, uprooted by climate change (global warming!) as their home territories became more arid. Celts were "in place," and so had holy or magical sites in their environment, and were more prone to layer the Christianity over their Pagan or Druidic religion, as a sort of veneer. Hence the association with Satanism, from a Church that "demonized" pagan practices, especially those that'd fall into the category of "Dionysian."

    Well. Redheads tend to be Celts, they have different pheramones-- people who are overdomesticated and alienated from their instinctive selves might not pick up on this, or might take unconscious note of it and impose a negative interpretation.

    I guess I'm saying redheads are often sexier than other tribes. Fenixpollo mentioned the hostility between a father and his "redheaded stepchild"-- well, he's* obviously inflicting his repressed envy of the child's natural father on the poor fellow.

    By the way, when blondes get pregnant their chemistry changes, and to my nose anyway, they smell very like a redhead. Just an observation for the olfactory-challenged, I know there's a lot of you out there-- I wouldn't begin to venture a hypothesis about what it all means.

    * "he's" here refers to "a father"-- not Fenixpollo.
  45. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Why were redheads taunted? For the same reason that lefthandeds were taunted: they were a minority.
  46. mamboney

    mamboney Senior Member

    Rocky Mountains
    English (USA)
    Bravo foxfirebrand!

    Red hair = Celts
    Celts = Barbarians (to the Romans)
    Barbarians = Bad (they are uppity)

    Could we have inherited these ideas from the Romans? Perhaps we have a classicist out there who could comment on this....

    Interesting sidenote--in Hungary, red hair (on women) is very popular.
    If a woman is not naturally red, she may very well dye her hair to be red!
    The first time that I travelled there 3 or 4 years ago, I was amazed at all of the red hair that I saw! Mind you, this applies almost exclusively to the women!
  47. judkinsc

    judkinsc Senior Member

    English, USA
    I cannot say, without more research, what the Romans thought of red hair, but I believe they found "blond" to be highly fascinating. (Venus is often blond.)

    See here:


    (There are some photos of Grecian urns on this site, in which you can readily see the pale color of her hair.)

    Well well, perhaps a small amount of research comes after all...

    (Look, Wikipedia has citations for once.)

    The general view of the Romans toward the Celts was that the further North you went, the meaner they became. Caesar comments on this on the first page of his De Bello Gallico, book I, chapter I.

    Thus, I do believe they would have found it a symbol of a barbarian, and a fearsome one.
  48. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I see no picture where her hair is unequivocally blond. She seems to have brown hair in most of Roman pictures. The Greek pictures are sort of black-and-white... :confused:

    "Wreathed with gold her locks." It doesn't seem to say that her locks were the colour of gold. A quote further down in the page suggests that the gold was from a crown:

  49. I.C. Senior Member

    Blonde slaves were fashionable, I think. One potential example that comes to my mind right now is the story of Pope Gregory I, I think, exclaiming “non angli sed angli” (not Anglos, but Angels) at the sight of children with blonde hair and blue eyes for sale in a Roman slave market.
    But I doubt a bit this would have been enough to create a deep-rooted sentiment.

    There is a phrase in German to express dislike for someone: “I can’t smell him (or her)”.
    I would think different people are attracted to different kinds of smell as part of the package that makes them be attracted to different types in general. Whether and to what extent that’s learnt or inherited, either way the smell of a person with genetics uncommon in a particular population might in tendency be regarded as alien or unpleasant by the majority.

    Red hair is also recessive I think, so if two parents, both not having red hair, have a red-haired child in a predominantly non-red society...bent on finding signs of malign supernatural power everywhere...
    But any deviance could be dangerous.
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