On Culture Shock

One of the things I think every girl dreads about traveling, going abroad, or simply moving to a new area is having to find a new hairstylist. For the first year after I moved to Atlanta I insisted of waiting until I could make a trip back to Birmingham to let anyone touch my hair. There were occasional times when I’d let my mom trim my hair on the back porch because it seemed silly to pay someone to do that. When I knew I was coming to Buenos Aires–I won’t lie–I fretted about what I was going to do. Going almost 6 months without a haircut isn’t an option for me because I have curly hair that splits easily, whether I fry it by blowing it out and straightening it or not. My mom would love to know that majority of the time that I’ve been down here I have worn my hair curly and even started to like it, but even being extra nice to my hair and making an effort not to straighten it as much couldn’t save me from the fact that I was going to have to get a haircut down here and I could either buy a pair of scissors and trust a friend to do it, or I could brave going to a salon and letting them trim it. I even went so far as to schedule my last hair appointment in the States as close to my departure date as possible to prolong the amount of time I would have to find somewhere suitable here in Buenos Aires.

I’m trying to be less high-maintenance, and I don’t even think of myself as much maintenance in the first place. I mean, I can go camping for three nights and subsequently go without a shower for that entire duration and not be bothered in the least. Sure, when all is said and done I want a shower just as much as the next person when it’s over, but I’m not one to complain about something like that. I do, however, complain about the lack of toilet paper in almost all bathrooms in South America (there is intentionally no toilet paper. It is not a matter of running out or not being able to adequately stock a bathroom, it just, plain and simple isn’t there.). But then, there are people like my sister (hi, Nettie!) who need a shower after driving from Birmingham to Atlanta before she will consider going out to eat. In fact, I distinctly remember my other sister. Sage, balking at her and telling her to take a “bird bath” if need be, but to get real.

But here’s the thing: Argentines don’t have the most “normal” hairstyles one has ever seen. In fact, you might say their entire definition fashion and sense of style has gone the way of the 80’s in North America and Europe. Picture neon skinny jeans, cut up tee-shirts with neon screen printed images, piercings, multi-colored hair, and specifically, hair that has been razored and cut from so many angles you aren’t really sure if it was intentional or just a really bad botch job. And then there’s the guys’ hairstyles which can almost always be summed up in one phrase: business in the front–party in the back. Whoever coined that phrase deserves a high-five because it’s so much fun to say. But it’s true, guys here have mohawks, they have fauxhawks, they have dreads, they have shaven heads with a pony tail of dreads coming out of the back of their head, they have rattails, they have one single dreaded rattail, they have multiple rattails starting from several different places on their head–are you getting the picture? It’s quite unsettling when you first see it. You’ll be walking down the street with your girlfriends completely checking out this gorgeous guy in a business suit and after he has passed and you turn around for one more glance and there it is: three lone dreads gathered up in a pony tail in the back despite the rest of his head being shaven or of a “traditional” style.

So you’re starting to understand my apprehension about getting my hair cut here. It was all I could do to get over the fear that I could very well walk out with a shoulder-length bob and various different lengths of hair all over my head. In fact, I think the only reason I was able to muster up the nerve is because Liz and I had been on one of our all-day lunches in Palermo and were looking for somewhere to get a pedicure. We were told about this place and as we walk in to inquire only the most beautiful of boys is standing on the other side of the door to answer our questions. No, they don’t offer pedicures, so we turn away to continue our search, but not before Liz–who had just gotten her haircut several days before–remarked, “You know, I can get my hair cut again,” and we let out little laughs as we walked away.

A couple weeks later I was in the same area, having just eaten at one of our favorite little Indian restaurants, Krishna, and decided that it was now or never because my hair was starting to look pretty shaggy. I walked back to the salon and went inside to find out how much risking the worst hair cut of my life was going to cost me. I think it was something like a very reasonable $40 Argentine pesos which is less than $15 USD. But what really sold me was the fact that possibly the most gorgeous guy in the world was going to cut my hair (and he was straight!) and his name was Juan Pablo (only the most common name here in Argentina) nonetheless. We chatted in a mix of Spanish and English and I insisted more than once that I wanted just “un poquitito” cut off and nothing crazy. Just snip, snip, and I’d be happy. After he shampooed my hair I sat in the chair with my stomach in a knot. As I watched him cut my hair he did many things differently from my stylist in Atlanta. Besides cutting my hair parted down the middle after I mentioned several times that I always wear my hair parted down the side he swore he wouldn’t make any difference, “Yeah, not the way people here wear their hair it wouldn’t!” I kept thinking. And then, and then, he took a razer to the front pieces of my hair and tapered them. I have curly hair, and word to all stylists out there: you do not let a razor come near curly hair! Period! Especially not to taper the front pieces of it! Razor = frizz. However, I let it go. Hair grows back, I reminded myself. A few minutes later the torture was over. Nothing was done how I’m used to it: I wasn’t pampered, the cut took all of 8 minutes, and I was left to walk out with a wet hair. What more did I expect for AR$40?

But I walked out of the salon happy that afternoon. My hair dried a lot curlier than normal and I have yet to straighten it since I got it cut, partially out of fear for seeing what it looks like straight and mostly out of laziness and not having the energy to fight the humidity that is Buenos Aires in the spring and summer. And now, less than a week before I have to leave this part of my life behind me, I have grown accustomed to the hairstyles here–even fond of them. Since I’m not sure I’ll ever have the nerve to dread my whole head and then shave all my hair off when I’m done with the phase, I have been toying with the idea of creating my own lone dread lock in the back on the underside of my hair as a tribute to how much this experience has changed me and cutting it off when I’m ready for the next part of my life to begin.

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One response to “On Culture Shock

  1. i love you, em – your hair would look fabulous no matter how you wore it, i swear… but i do love it curly… come home!!!!

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