One of the more courageous things I’ve done in China is go to the hairdresser (I know, I know, I sound ridiculous saying this… I’ll just add it to my #firstworldproblem list).
My first experience did not go so well. I went to a hairdresser that was recommended and trusted by many expats, where the owner speaks English and they always leave with great hair. I left with lousy hair, never went back and vowed I would never get my hair cut in China again.
Of course this was never going to work, because, as those who know me well can attest, I can’t leave my hair alone.
One day when Jilly was in town, I announced that I was going to get my hair cut short. Jilly is great at many things, but she is particularly great at supporting me when I am unsure of a situation and dread the outcome.
“I’ve actually never known a Chinese person to cut bad hair,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“Have you ever even known a Chinese hairdresser?!”
“Well no, but look around, they all have great hair.”
“Yeah, you would say that, because it’s dead-straight, thick, black hair… just like your hair! How will they manage with my wavy, crappy hair?”
“You have beautiful hair! And they’ll manage just fine.”
“What if they don’t speak English?”
“What, they’re blind too? Show them the picture you just showed me. Look, what’s the worst that can happen?” She asked cheerfully.
Really, she was asking me what’s the worst that could happen when I went to a hairdresser that could probably not speak English and was skilled only in a thousand different shades of black.
I don’t know why I picked the salon I did. There are so many less than a two minute walk from where I live, which would make it easier for me to run home quickly after a disaster. But for whatever reason I had this particular salon in mind.
When I walked in, I was the only client there with about nine hairdressers (all men, which hairdressers in China are… very unusual to see female hairdressers). They were just hanging around (this happens a lot in China, but that’s a post for another day). I was the star attraction and/or freak show, which is always very intimidating.
They all greeted me in Chinese, at which stage I understood nothing. After a flurry of chatter, a young Chinese woman appeared at the counter and greeted me in broken English.
It’s a start, I thought.
And a few hours later I left with an invitation to go shopping with the receptionist, several compliments on how beautiful my eyes are and one of the best haircuts I’ve ever had (you were right Jilly!).
I have been back several times, and I was there just yesterday.
The receptionist is always pleased to see me, and yesterday they gave me a free gift (a hairbrush – score!) because I am such a ‘happy, good customer’. There are about three regular staff members who don’t freak out when I arrive, but the others get a little excited and mill around me when I walk to the front counter. Yesterday, I put my book down on the counter while I was talking to the receptionist and when I went to pick it up I found one of the young apprentices flicking through it in amazement. I also had three people applying my colour, and then as it was processing, others would randomly walk up and touch it, pretending they were checking it but paying more attention to my weird blue eyes on my round, pink face.
I have to say though, I am pleased that I have put a little bit of effort into learning Chinese. I can now have small chats with them and can understand simple instructions from them, which I think makes me less of a freak as they feel more comfortable with me.
Also, it helps avert disasters… when I showed the picture yesterday, the receptionist said in her confident broken English:
“Ahh yes, you want dark blue hair.”
I laughed. So it’s not just me who confuses words in foreign languages, like when I told Mika that after my session I was going to his house (instead of my house) or that he was the most expensive person (rather than the best person). It’s ok, I know she knew what she meant, and so did I.
“Correct,” I said in Chinese. “I would like dark brown coloured hair.”