HOW TO GET A BAD HAIRCUT WHEN TRAVELING
Alongside a visit to a foreign doctor, getting a foreign haircut is one of the most daunting tasks a traveler must overcome. Many will let their hair grow out simply to avoid this confusing, and potentially very disappointing, challenge. But, having your hair cut is as urgent as appendicitis. Sometimes you gotta get rid of it, hippie.
To get a good haircut, you will need a photo, a smile and the ability to give the stylist confidence. To get a bad haircut, you need only say these three words:
“I am traveling.”
“Tôi đang đi du lịch”
“저는 여행중 입니다.”
I consistently lie to two groups of people: tailors and hairdressers. To the tailor: “I live here.” To the hairdresser: “I just moved here.”
A smart tailor knows that local customers will result in good or bad word-of-mouth. A smart hairdresser knows that someone new in town will be looking for a place to regularly get a haircut.
My first haircut abroad was in Belgium, in a little alley about three blocks away from Brussels’s Grand Palace square. It was 2004 and I was on a side trip from Amsterdam, where I was “studying”. The shop was busy, with a 45-minute wait. When my time came, I sat down nervously. The busy / friendly, hairdresser spoke good English, as most Belgians do. I communicated what I wanted and we got started. During the small talk, he asked if I was studying in Brussels. “No”, I said, “I am just here for the weekend.” And so began an abbreviated, half-assed haircut. His eyes were scanning the regulars in the shop, waiting impatiently to get me out and thin the herd. The small talk ceased and before I knew it he was shaking a meagre amount of my clipped hair from the apron and I was out the door, 18€ poorer.
A similar situation happened in 2011 when I was visiting San Francisco for a wedding. I walked into a little shop in the Castro that had received good reviews on Yelp. Again, there was a wait and most of the familiar customers were chatting each other up. It was a bit like being in a local bar, where everybody knows your name. Upon my turn in the spinny leather chair, I confessed that I lived in Asia and was just in town for a wedding. Realizing this, he gave me about half the time and effort of the local regulars, again shaking an incomplete amount of my fur from the apron and parting me with “that ought to do for the wedding”. Not quite; and now I have to fix this in Seoul, with a hairdresser who speaks little English, yet will manage to clean up your mess, possibly because she thinks I am a new foreign correspondent for the BBC, largely because I told her I was the BBC’s new foreign correspondent in South Korea.
Since the San Francisco incident, I have learned to always tell any hairdresser in any city that I have just moved to: (his/her city). I have just accepted a job. My wife lives across the street. I am studying nearby. Any tactful hairdresser knows that a returning local will result in more money in their register. For me, I get a good haircut. For them, the false presumption that they’ll see me again. We part with a friendly “see you” and everyone wins. Forgive me.