Our first two years in Russia, my long-suffering husband cut my naturally curly hair. Fortunately, curly hair hides a multitude of sins. But there came a day when I knew I needed a professional haircut.
Clutching a vocabulary list of hair words in my sweaty hand and saying a little prayer, I resolutely marched to a nearby salon. Ladies in gray lab coats lounged about the room, smoking, watching a small TV mounted on the wall, and drinking tea. My bravado began to slip as I stood for what seemed like an eternity, wondering what to do next. Finally, one of the gray coats approached.
With the aid of my Russian vocabulary list, I requested a haircut. Miss Gray Coat inquired if I had brought shampoo. Puzzled by the question, and wondering if something was lost in translation, I told her no. Snatching me by the arm, she led me to a dark and gloomy back room. It was a bathroom. She pointed to the tub and instructed me to wash my hair. Then she pivoted and stomped from the room. I nervously approached the giant claw-footed porcelain bathtub. I hung my head over the side, under the faucet, and began to rinse my hair. Every nerve in my brain began to scream as ice cold water hit my hair. Where was the hot water???? In the teacups???
Returning to the front of the shop, water dripping down my neck (my towel was at home), and teeth chattering, I perched on the edge of the chair. My eyes darted around the room, discreetly observing the other patrons and hairdressers.
I did a double-take. OH NO! Every woman had the same exact haircut. The execution of my hair was about to begin.
After several quick chops of the scissors, I was led back to the water torture. I dug in my heels, but the Russian bear of a hairdresser overpowered me, dragging me to the back room. After another dousing of cold water, the executioner asked if I wanted a blow-dry. Since it was 20 degrees below zero outside, I thought it might be advisable. Also, I hoped the warm air might unfreeze my brain and unlock the Russian vocabulary frozen in its icy depths. Shivering, I nodded in reply.
Apprehensively, I followed her down the hall to a new room. She flung open the door and revealed a row of women sitting under antique hard-hat dryers. Except for the roar of the dryers, there was no sound, no happy chattering or gossiping. Just a group of stone-faced women baking their freshly shorn hair. Instructed to help myself, I tiptoed over to an empty dryer to join the bake-off.
In a recent survey among my five ex-pat friends, I discovered getting a haircut overseas is one of their greatest phobias. Explaining that hair salons in Europe have greatly improved over the last ten years, I encouraged them to give the local hair salons another try.
I’ve made my next hair appointment. It is scheduled for March 2013 during my next visit to America.
I’ve grown to like my hair a little bit on the long side.