In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m blonde. Yeah, yeah – I’ve heard all the jokes, so knock it off. I’ve always maintained that if blonde were a bad thing, it wouldn’t be available in a bottle. I’ve had a long run maintaining what I have. Full disclosure here (and I imagine the next time I walk through the cafeteria at the Consulate I’ll have “Roots Peepers”): My blond is kind of . . . helped out.
I will admit to the usual sins – a few bad platinum years in my twenties, using the box of Nice & Easy without doing a strand test, and yes – asking DiploDad to don the gloves and help me even out the back. (He’s going to kill me when that gets out.) But sometime in the middle of law school, I got sick of it and headed downtown to a swanky hair salon and discovered the beauty of highlights and lowlights.
Enter the Foreign Service. For our first post in Cameroon, hair wasn’t an issue for me. I continued to visit my swanky NYC salon (and inveigle whenever DD asked “who is this Warren-Tricomi guy?” Full disclosure: it’s TWO guys.). I was only a visitor during school breaks and summers, so you can bet I scheduled a touch-up two days prior to any visit. When one sees one’s husband for a record 49 days a year, one must look good. Especially if you know that he’ll finally have you cornered and you’ll have to fess up about that Warren guy.
I never really realized how much of a pain it could be to get a haircut for some women. I’m white, American, and grew up in the suburbs with stick-straight hair. Mainstream hair salons and chains cater to that type of hair in the U.S. Even at a beauty college, I won’t turn out looking like someone chewed my hair off instead of cutting it. My first clue that this wasn’t exactly the norm came from my co-clerk the second year DiploDad was in Ghana. And it wasn’t even my experience.
Poor H was one of my co-clerks. He is Chinese-American, and the poor guy landed a clerkship in Charleston, WV. It was not a match made in Hair Heaven.
Me: H! OMG.
H: (Runs hand nervously through his hair.) It’s not too bad, right?
Me: Um, well – where’d you get it cut?
H: The beauty college. The lady said she knew what she was doing.
Me: Did she? (eyes darting nervously anywhere but the hair on the top of his head)
H: Yeah – she even took me out in front of that night’s class to show everyone whatAsian hair was like. Like, she knew it was different, so she had to know what she was doing. It looks fine, right?
Me: It looks like someone left an alopecic warthog on the top of your head.
The thing that drove me crazy was that H had a girlfriend in NYC whom he regularly visited. It took me months to figure out why he continued to torture himself the entire year he clerked while even I, the local girl, made a regular trip to The City for my hair.
Fast forward a few months later:
Me: OMG. You did it AGAIN.
H: I thought they’d get better at it.
Me: Really? I mean, you’re going to see J next week – you’ll be five subway stops from Chinatown. Why do you do this?
H: I don’t want to show up with my hair too long and have J think I am not taking care of myself.
This never ended. To this day, I am convinced that in some random beauty college in WV, there are tales of the “Chinese Guy” who stopped by every six weeks for a year before he vanished forever. Before the year was over, however, J had broken up with him. I really think it was the haircut.
That was my wakeup call that Not All Hair is Created Equal.
I hit snooze, however, and rolled over until I went to visit DiploDad four months after I started clerking. Right around the time H was struggling with the beauty college students, M, an entry level officer at the Embassy in Cameroon, was awaiting my arrival in Yaoundé after her first experience with a local beauty shop left something to be desired.
M: Can you do my hair this week?
Me: Um, sure. What do you want done?
M: Color – I’ve got a box.
Me: Sure – I can do that, no problem.
M: And a cut too.
Me: Eerrrmm . . . .
And that is how I found myself on M’s back porch, Nice & Easy gloves sliding in goopy reddish goo in 90+F degree weather. The color part was cake. The cut part . . . a little nerve-wracking.
Me: So, um, I have no idea what I’m doing.
M: As if anyone else here does either. The last lady I booked an appointment with brought out the curl relaxer. (Note: M’s hair is pin straight)
M: Look – straight across – bangs and the back and sides. It’s like an elementary school haircut, for crying out loud, if your mother could do it, and my mother could do it, you sure as Hell can do it and I can deal with it for the next 8 months until I go home. Now snip!
So I did. I mangled – er – managed it. Initially, I said I’d take off 2-3 inches. But then when it wasn’t quite even, I went a little further. By the time I was finished, enough red hair was on the floor to build my own puppy, but M was satisfied.
Frankfurt was fine, as the official national hair color of Germany is blond. A stint in the U.S. during language training for DiploDad was fine too. Then, my hair problems began.
We moved to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city. There was much ado about Nancy Kissel’s expensive haircuts https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Robert_Kissel but I wasn’t in her income bracket. It wasn’t horrible, however, and within the first year I found someone to do the upkeep.
The next posting was little more challenging – Ghana. My savior came in the form of an Embassy spouse with a home-based business. K was awesome. But she moved after two years. Finally, another spouse hung up a shingle too – after some wonky discussion and management, um, “kerfuffle” – and I was fine there for the most part.
I didn’t figure India would be difficult. A lot of businesses here employ expats who have hair like mine. There are many foreign consulates here. The Desi women are into beauty. So I was completely unprepared for any challenges.
I did the first thing I always do when I get into a new country: ask around. My blond European friends all swore by this established French chain, whose initials are JCB. I visited them, and even saw the creative director, but was less than thrilled. At that point, I realized that most of my Euro friends did the single-process thing, or did that and then put on highlights. It was not what I was used to, and frankly speaking, the Madame Creative Director sucked at highlights. If someone comes in because roots are a problem, go to the END of the hair up by the scalp, honey, don’t leave a half-centimeter of dark there. Moreover, in spite of me telling Madame Creative Director to just do a very, tiny trim, she “shelved” me. “Shelving” is when some moron decides that they need to do the Jennifer Anniston long layers from the 1990s “Friends” era, and you are left with a huge “shelf” of hair that just hangs there on top of the bottom layer unless you are willing to spend forty-five minutes blow-drying your hair daily, which I’m definitely not. I even told her not to cut layers, and read her the riot act when she tried to “explain” that it would help my hair hang nicer in the tropical weather. I’ve lived in the tropics about one-third of my life, I know what doesn’t work. I wore a ponytail for months.
Right before I left, the building across from my apartment compound opened up a Warren-Tricomi salon in the spa. I was so tempted. I almost cancelled my home leave appointment with Richard*, God of All Hair and creative director of PR@Partners in McLean, VA. But I didn’t, and I went home where Richard greeted me with a hug and a double-cheek air kiss.
Richard: “I haven’t seen you in forever! How is India?”
Me: “India’s fabulous. How’ve you been?”
Richard: “Great, I – um.”
Me: “Yeah, I know. Just fix it, OK?”
I smiled into the mirror three-and-a-half hours later, so happy I could barely stand it. Before I left, I mentioned the new salon next door at home.
Richard: “Oh, perfect! They use the same training program and continuing education we do! Let me write down the formula for you.”
I left even happier that I thought possible. I had the hair formula and competent folks a stone’s throw from home.
Fast forward to October. I called the WT salon, explained I wanted highlights and lowlights and had the formula. I made an appointment for the following Wednesday.
I went into the spa ten minutes early on Wednesday and inhaled the familiar spa scents of lemongrass and essential oils. I approached the reception.
Me: “Hi, I have an appointment at 5:30 with X.”
Reception Dude: “Your name?”
Reception Dude: “Hmmm. Just a minute.”
He disappeared and returned about five minutes later with a tall, good-looking, young man in salon black, who introduced himself and began my “consultation”. Apparently, no – it wasn’t a hair appointment as I had thought. X basically told me that he had to see my hair to get the colors. I handed him the paper Richard had given me with the color cocktail. X smiled and told me he’d order these from the market. I made a follow-up appointment for Friday.
Friday, I looked at my phone on the way over and discovered I had two missed calls. I didn’t know the number. I arrived at the salon, pushed the door open, and was met by X, who told me he was unable to get the right colors from the market. Okaaay. I made a follow-up appointment for the next Wednesday.
Wednesday rolled around and I went back to WT. This time, I was actually sitting in the chair with my hair let down and X running a brush through it when he told me that yet AGAIN he couldn’t get the colors. He could do a base, and then do a haircut and we could then order the colors again. NO. I got up, grabbed my things, and left without a backward glance. When the manager called me to reschedule the next day, I gave him an earful and told him to take me off his contact list. I still get text messages from the spa and salon. It’s irritating.
With roots that were moving beyond a mere fashion statement Madonna circa 1993, I bit the bullet and went back to Madame Creative Director’s salon. It turned out that Madame had succumbed to the irritation with India she’d voiced to me during my appointment and moved back to France, so they proposed S. S was Indian, so at least I didn’t have to hear someone whine about India while I got my hair done, and actually got some fun tips on cool stuff to do, which Marathi movie I should see if I only saw one in my life, and cooking tips. It still wasn’t a fantastic highlight/lowlight experience, but it would do. I returned to him in February.
S: “Hi! So great to see you again!”
Me: “Great to see you too! What’s new?”
S: “It’s still a secret – they don’t know here yet – but I accepted a job on a cruise ship!”
It’s now April. And we’ve got lots of farewells, kid end-of-year events, and stuff coming up and there will be photos. I’ve gotta get the hair done again.
If anyone knows where all the Russian Bollywood backup dancers get their hair done, please let me know. Otherwise, I’ve got two boxes of Nice ‘n’ Easy under the sink, and DiploDad owes me a favor.
*Normally, I don’t name names. But Richard is so freaking awesome that his praises deserve to be sung, and if you are in the DC area, you deserve to know about him. Tell him DiploMom sent you.