I’m sitting in a bright-orange chair wondering if the stylish twenty-something cutting my hair understood that I wanted a trim, because there are pieces of hair falling on the ground that look like I’m going for Locks of Love. It’s my own fault, I realize: I gave my length estimate in inches (but also gestures!).
Since I moved here I have had four haircuts at four different establishments. Only one was “bad,” but none of the rest have been particularly satisfying. You know (maybe I’m talking to the ladies here?) when you get your hair cut, and the cutter styles it, and you think, “I should go out on the town tonight because my hair is amazing right now”? That feeling has been noticeably lacking.
Another American friend confirmed my feelings this week when she said, “I haven’t had a good haircut since I moved to Europe.” Why is this? I don’t know. In general, I find the Europeans rather more stylish and fussed with their appearances than (the average) Americans. So I have tentatively chalked it up to communication barriers, and attitudes.
When I go to the salon, the employees all huddle and say “Engels” a lot, and then assign me the person whose English vocabulary is largest. The woman who cut my hair yesterday spoke very good English, but there’s a different between language mechanics and understanding. I was also looking to her for some pointers, along the lines of “you know more about hair than I do.” I suggested a certain cut and said, “Do you think this will look good on me?” and she said, “Yes, it is possible.”
There’s also the certain Dutch bluntness to adjust to, and this part I actually like. No flattery, no saying what they think you want to hear. At my previous cut, the woman began by saying, “Your hair does not look good.” Yesterday’s began with a similar encouragement.
Because I don’t go out to a workplace every day, instances like hair appointments are often my gateway to interesting conversations about being from the US. One hairstylist told me she knows that “American women spend $200 on their hair” (but Dutch women won’t). I hastily corrected this to some American women. Yesterday I was asked, “You’re American? So have you been to Hollywood?” (Dating to a time when I was less than four years old, I think, I said yes.)
There are certain mundane experiences like this that in cross-cultural settings can become rather daunting. It helps as I walk away, squinting in store windows and wondering if I like what I see, to think that hair is just hair… it grows of its own accord, and in another few months I’ll get to try this scenario again.