Expat Hair

Get any group of expats together and it wont be long before you notice there’s a process of information gathering and sharing taking place. Where do you find? How do you get? Who does the…?

I belong to several groups of professional information sharers. The big picture is the International Groups.

“Has anyone ever lived in Pekanbaru? We’ve just found out we’re moving there.”

“I’m going to need a gynecologist in Luanda. Any suggestions?”

I have never seen a question go unanswered. Someone always knows someone who is willing to offer their email address or phone number. It’s travel karma. We’ve all been lost, we’ve all been clueless, we all know how it feels.

Locally, the questions get smaller. Does anyone know where to find Golden Syrup? Has anyone seen where you can buy binoculars? Quick! Lulu has tinned tomatoes (I’m still a little scarred by the great tinned tomato famine of 2009).

The toughest question, arrives often. It’s always highly controversial.

Does anyone know a good hairdresser?

G prides himself on his cheap haircuts. He uses it as a competitive taunt amongst friends. In Jakarta he stopped on the side of the road under the shade of a tent, and was happily snipped and sheared for about a dollar. He naturally gave a very generous tip, but he was so proud of his one buck cuts that everyone knew about it. In Malaysia he hunted high and low for the same experience. In Libya he made friends with an Iraqi barber, and here in Qatar he takes traveller’s three and four to listen to stories told by older Turkish men. For G it’s all about the experience.

Not me. I just want a decent bloody haircut. I’ve had enough bad haircuts that I’ve become a little scissor shy.

I walked out of a hairdressers in Tunisia with the back of my hair looking like a series of uneven steps. Little chunks jutted out from all angles like tufts of grass. It was my first lesson in don’t practice your French while having a haircut. I meant cut a little bit off, she thought lets leave a little bit there…and there….and there.

I have stories of ears that were accidentally clipped. Bangs that were burned and hair that was coloured orange. And then there is the true heartbreak. The discovery of a great hairdresser who two months later breaks the news that she is leaving.

What I’ve noticed over the years is the blow out effect. This means that after not being able to find a hairdresser, women tend to go for the wash and blow option to disguise the lack of a decent style. Sometimes the procedure is highly effective, it’s amazing what a set a rollers and a bit of a quaff can hide – but sometimes it all goes horribly wrong. See exhibit A:

The flick. My hair literally bounced at the sides of my head as I walked. It was like it was having its own little dance party. Jump around, jump up jump up and get down. Except it didn’t get down, it just stayed like wings that were guiding my face, looking for a safe landing.

Every now and then I go to visit a little hole in the wall salon that’s in a back street near my house. Appointments cannot be made so it’s a luck of the draw experience. I’m usually the only other expat in the room apart from the women who work there who are all from the Philippines. This is where I go to get what my friend calls “Expat Hair”.

The woman at reception does not speak English, nor Arabic, which means everyone in the room becomes a mime artist.

“Wash and blow-dry?” I’ll ask while making hand gestures of an invisible hair-dryer moving around my head.

She will answer me by screaming towards a back room. “YULI!” And that’s when Yuli will arrive to wash my hair.

“Two wash? my friend Yuli will ask. This means she’ll shampoo it twice, for some reason a lot of the other women don’t like their hair washed twice. I don’t get it, but I’ve realized its a big enough deal that everyone gets asked the same question.

“Under or over?” she’ll ask me as I sit down. The picture above is my lesson in why you don’t say over.

“You want volume”

“Just small volume not big volume” I say, this seems to make sense to me.

“Spray?” she will ask when she’d done.

Always the same. In the time that I’m there I will converse through eyebrows. I will frown when the really rude woman walks in and demands to be seen ahead of the waiting line of women. Yuli will glance at my reflection in the mirror and shake her head in a silent can you believe how rude she is response. I will shrug and raise my eyebrows in a what can you do motion. We’ll both smile. It happens every time I’m there. I will ask about her children in the Philippines, and she will tell me a story of the week, and we’ll joke about our husbands. She’ll ask if I’ve heard a rumour about a new store opening, an arrest, or a visiting celebrity. She’ll always have a suggestion on where to find whatever it is that I’m currently looking for.

Always the same. Every time. Her expat world looks a little different than mine, but operates with similar necessities.

Information sharers and gatherers.

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  1. I know EXACTLY what you mean: when I first moved to Ireland, there were only two things I missed from the UK (apart from family and friends obviously) and they were my hairdresser and Boots the Chemist, also possibly hair-related!

  2. There’s one person here (in Western Kenya) who all teh wazungu (white folk) go to to get their hair cut. He also threds eyebrows, which I’ve come to love. But when I lived in any even more rural place I went with a Kenyan friend to a storefront to get our eyebrows “done.” Little did I know, they would be “done” with a razor…. Thredding beats the pants off of a razor! But for the most part I still think of a nice hairstyle as one of those things I’ve just abandoned for the tiem being and one of the indulgences I partake of on visits back home…

  3. I can recommend a tiny woman in Pokhara – round the back of the market-place and up dark stairs; she’d never cut western hair before and all her friends came in for the performance. Great haircut, great fun!

  4. When when living in China this was the hottest topic. Great cut one day, terrible the next from the same guy. Not to mention the blue rinse and I only went in for highlights. They came out so pale they looked grey. He put s toner through to rectify his mistake and it definitely had a distinctly blue tinge to it. We live in America now and the expat experience is v different. It took a long time to find the camaraderie you have in places like China where expats hang together.

  5. I know exactly what you mean. I always save a decent haircut for when I get back to Melbourne – which normally means I have a haircut about 8 weeks before I leave and then struggle with it for the last 2 weeks. It also means that I have to run into my hairdresser before I catch up with anyone as I’m too embarrassed by the state of my hair!!

  6. Too funny! I started out in Yokohama with a note from my Sydney hairdresser explaining the color and application process for highlights and low lights which a friend kindly translated into Japanese. I treasured this note and presented it to each hairdresser that I dared make a booking with. Sadly not one could interpret the information to my liking. On a trip to Sydney, my hairdresser had a new stylist working who had a friend working in Tokyo! OMG! An Australian hairdresser less than 2 hours away! He was a blessing (tho he did cut my hair super short on one occassion I left in tears, so it can happen to anyone, in any language). At one point he was ‘doing’ the hair of several Yokohama ladies he entertained opening a salon there LOL.
    School, house, hairdresser, GP ……..

  7. Oh yes -the haircut. When we moved to the US I ventured out for the first haircut feeling calm after all we all spoke the same language. I emerged in hysterics as even the supposedly flattering mirrors in the saloon showed very clearly I was now a dead ringer for an ageing Rod Stewart in terms of hair rather than outfit I hastily add, and though both Rod and I are Scots that’s where I would like to think the resemblance ends. Tearful phone call to Husband reporting that might have to fly back to London on a six weekly basis. Good news is Roger in Sydney cuts both our hair and that of every friend I know as well so whilst it is a bit incestuous I like to think my hair isn’t the first thing people notice about me – it’s the Rod Stewart platform boots!

  8. Reminds me of taking my google translated instructions into the hairdressers in Siberia 🙂

  9. Having seen how my RAF mother-in-law struggled with her short hair when abroad, I started to watch my hairdressers very closely and learnt to do my own, and keep it shoulder length. I practised on the kids first, of course, I’m not daft. I had to go back again to learn how to use colour, and now I am a dab hand with a box of naturtint and an old toothbrush.

  10. Oh, finding a good hair dresser no matter where you go is important! I finally found a Turkish guy through another expat that speaks a little English here in Istanbul. It’s always more blonde than I want, but he’s so proud of his work when he’s done. Everyone smokes in the back room – even though it’s “illegal” to smoke indoors, but the price is right, the hair cut/color good enough, so I can’t be bothered to find someone else and perhaps end up crying! 😉

  11. Over looks great! It’s like you have forgotten all about Texas! 🙂

  12. I am very much pleased with the contents you have mentioned. I enjoyed every little bit part of it. Hairdresser St Kilda

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