I got my hair cut on Saturday. I don’t cut it that often so it was a rare treat. It’s even more of a treat now that getting a haircut means I get to be alone and [pretend to] be lazy and relaxed for sixty minutes. Since moving to the States, I haven’t found a salon that I consistently like, so I figured I’d try a new place. Top of my Google search was a salon in a fancy-schmancy part of town. Women’s styles were listed as about $15 more than I would normally pay, but I felt that my hour of dolce far niente was certainly worth the splurge. So, I fed Ayo and grabbed my hot pink Chinese Longchamp purse filled with just a wallet and a mobile phone. For my outing, my faux Longchamp seemed more fitting than the diaper bag. To celebrate, I wore a top that I can’t easily breastfeed in, courtesy of Ross-dress-for-less. I had just enough time to swing by a coffee-shop. I always see people walking around, coffee in hand and I have always wanted to do that. It looks so relaxing! So, coffee in hand, I rushed to the salon following my GPS and then slowed my pace down to caaaasually rooooll into the salon.
There were ads for eyelash extensions and magnificent exotic orchids everywhere. There were beautiful ladies clicking away with acrylic nails at their iPhones, waiting on beautiful furniture. As it turns out, I didn’t need to get a coffee because there was of course organic coffee and tea and biscuits there. Or maybe they were just on display. In any case, it was only when I was escorted back to the stylist’s station that I felt completely like a fish out of water. Not just jumping out of water, but flipping frantically trying to survive on land. Customers were either very old (read: wealthy) or they looked like top models. No, really – my stylist works on hair for some channel 2 news anchor (I don’t watch local TV so I don’t know who he was talking about), does footballer hair extensions and catwalk hairdos. So, there I sat, along with the rest of the beauty pageant, with my botched up toe-nail polish from running out the door. And without make-up because I ran out the door. And with stress acne and blotchy skin, from running out the door. And obviously, I hadn’t done anything to my ratty tatty hair because I was getting it styled. In the meantime, the other stylists were doing their final touches on Richie Rich’s grandma and Claudia Schiffer’s twin. Each client was given a tender hug and a kiss on one cheek as she pranced out the door, with, I kid you not: hair bouncing JUST like in the commercials. I watched each woman leave. Invariably, the male stylists would establish how hot she was to my stylist in a not-so-quiet-whisper. Gah!
It’s not like I don’t know this world. I know it well, but no longer feel I have to pretend to be part of it. The salon experience took me right back to the marketing job I had in Paris one summer, coordinating haute-coiffure catwalks. I liked that they were both outrageous (see image right) and really playful and creative. But for the most part, it struck me as a superficial world, laden with masks to patch up so much sadness. Behind the beauty of the models: eating disorders, drugs, the worry of aging bodies and ephemeral flings. Anyway, just like I simply wanted to pull together a great few events at the Salle Wagram in Paris and then move on, I simply wanted a haircut on Saturday and then get out of there. I thought about how ridiculous the situation was and gave myself a pep talk: As long as the haircut is good, the atmosphere doesn’t matter. Be true to yourself, TCK mama!
The stylist proceeded to give me a “consultation”, telling my hair looked like a mushroom (does no one else in this salon ever put their hair up in a ponytail?) and asking me when I last got it cut, how I style it and “what we’re having done today”. The thing is, I haven’t owned a brush for approximately ten years – and even then, the brush belonged to my parents – so I knew this wouldn’t go down well.
I kept my answers short: “I blow-dry my hair. Got it cut twelve weeks ago, maybe sixteen. Need a low-maintenance haircut. Don’t have a picture, so do what you want to it. Need cut to strengthen the hair. Clumps are coming out ever since giving birth.” The stylist then gave me a cheesy squeeze on the shoulders, congratulating me on my postpartum body: “good job honey, you look fabulous”. At this point, I was eager to just get my hair cut and get out of there as quickly and discreetly as possible. But of course, that’s when my Third Culture membership betrayed me. Figuring something was a little odd, the stylist asked me if I was American. He asked where I’d lived before (did he really want to open up that can of worms?), if “this length is ok?” and “do you like this style?” and “how about a bob?”.
Frazzled and in true TCK fashion, I said yes to all the wrong questions and ended up with a cut that hardly looks like I went to the hairdresser’s at all. He, on the other hand, probably had the most peculiar conversation in his career. For example, he figured out we had lived in China so wanted to know how much we paid for a haircut there. I think Tall Mountain got his cut for 40 cents on Fahua Zhen Road (at this place in the pic, left) and I invested a little more, forking out a whole 5 USD. I wasn’t going to lie to him, but I wasn’t all that excited where the conversation was going, so I tried to cut it as short as possible.
My boring non-cut finally done, I stood up from the chair and collected my purse. Then, reluctantly accepting the hug but dodging the kiss, I went to pay. Let’s just say that my non-cut cost more than all-over highlights. In fact, it cost three times the price of a nice haircut at the previous place I’d been to. Totally stunned by the price and vaguely hearing the lady mumbling something about a gratuity, I said: “no thanks”..which is when I remembered that I always get confused with the word “gratuity”. Gratuit means “free” in French but I hear it all the time at restaurants in the US too and can only think it means pretty much the opposite of “free”. So, I blushed and slowed down long enough to tell the lady: “I am sorry, I don’t understand what a gratuity is” in my flawless American accent. A little surprised at how a grown adult would not understand the concept of tipping, she explained that I had to tell her if I wanted cash back for a tip. With people crowded around, I told her my amount. Of course, she didn’t hear the amount the first time. So I had to say it LOUDER. All in all, a super awkward and non discreet escape to a super awkward haircut experience.
Running out of there, cheeks burning and all, I called my America-coach. Tall Mountain immediately wondered why I hadn’t questioned why the price was way more than listed on the website. I guess I was too flustered to endure more awkwardness. Tall Mountain, getting the picture faster than I could paint it for him, told me we should debrief at home.
In reflecting back on the experience, I think the fancy-schmancy part of town had never struck me as ritzy or hoity toity because it feels a little bit like Europe. People enjoy nice food, look thin and dress up. Surely then, I would like the hairstyles and be at home in a salon there, right? It feels just like home! And in that split second, I remembered that I had left my cultural glasses at home on Saturday. With my ‘glasses’ on, I am so much more prepared to face life in America. I would have been able to put this salon within its proper American context. With the glasses on, I am free to view America like I do all foreign countries, instead of blundering into those situations or taking them at face value…
One of these days, when I pluck up the courage, I will put my cultural glasses back on and go get a proper haircut.