Monday, September 10, 2007

The Bad Overseas Haircut

Jerusalem - If you’ve traveled overseas, then at some point you’ve overpaid at the local market, found yourself inside a dungeonesque bathroom (damp and dirty) at a time of need, and confronted the unfortunate choice of wearing a frontal backpack, neck pouch, or fanny pack. There are experiences that every tourist overseas shares, no matter whether the destination is Delhi or Paris.

Similarly, if you live overseas, there is another range of experiences common to your life, whether it is learning to drive offensively or becoming a regular at Karaoke bars. Somewhere between getting passport photos (a task undertaken at least every other week in third world countries) and complaining about how deodorant is cheaper in America (a current pastime of mine), there is the bad overseas haircut.

The bad overseas haircut is a tradition for American ex-pats akin to Thanksgiving, apple pie, and football. Following the Barry Bonds debacle, I’ve unilaterally decided that baseball is no longer our national pastime.

Mushroom head,” “the mullet,” “Kojak,” “a tail,” and “the helmet” (aka the “bad fade” or “ill fade”) and the circumstances surrounding such fates come in all shapes and sizes, from the Asian Parlor to the Arab Salon. I’ve suffered all of these except for the tail – a regrettable destiny for its first few hours, but one that is easily remedied.

Americans usually fall within one of two bad overseas haircuts categories, Language Barrier Casualties (LBC) and Fashion Police Victims (FPV). An LBC cannot communicate his needs to the haircutter in question. He uses hand gestures or shouts words like “just a trim,” or “fade,” slowly and clearly. He may even try to actually show the haircutter how to cut his hair. Sadly, the outcome remains socially disastrous for the LBC.

For an FPV, communication is not a problem. He speaks the local language or has found a haircutter who speaks English. After the FPV engages with the barber, he is confident that he is going to get the haircut requested – making his plight more tragic. FPVs have no way of accounting for the local stylist’s Fashion Police sense.

You see, the local stylist knows best. Even though the FPV has clearly stated what he wants (usually a haircut uncommon to local trends), the haircutter cannot risk the potential disgrace of having the local Fashion Police pull over the badly groomed American and pepper him with questions like, “Who did this to you?” or “Why are you out in public looking like this?”

So, the haircutter gives the FPV elements of what he requested, but he localizes it, assured that his client will be happy in the end. If you asked for a fade, you get a helmet. If you have long hair, you get a mullet.

Well, I’m here to tell you that I’m not happy with my “baby Jagr” mullet.

Jaromir Jagr
was an 18-year old Czech prodigy supreme who came to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990. A goal-scoring dynamo who learned English watching Married with Children, he was a child of the 80s, a small town (Kladno) boy taking that midnight train (flight) to anywhere (Pittsburgh). A puffy afro in the front, flowing curly hair in the back, and closely cropped sides, Jagr set the standard for a generation of hockey mullets. He dominated opponents with his speed and stick handling in the 90s and left a wake of fluttering mall chicks’ hearts in his wake.

Seventeen years later, I have the "baby Jagr," and I’m walking around Jerusalem, trying to stay out of people’s pictures.

Pre-haircut, my Big Hair situation was desperate; the Partridge Family was calling to ask questions about my hair product. So, I went to a barber a few blocks from Damascus Gate. Given my familiarity with Arabic haircut vocab, I thought I had a better chance for a good cut with an Arabic-speaking barber.

I found a guy with long hair himself. He understood English . . . I thought I was so smart. I told him what I wanted, we chatted amiably, and I sat in his chair, confident. When I left the shop, I really thought it looked okay. I’m not sure if it was the lighting or that I hadn’t gotten a haircut in almost two and a half months and forgot what it was supposed to look like. But I thanked the barber and continued on to a work event feeling well-groomed. When I got home, though, I looked in the mirror and saw a baby mullet.

Oh, the humanity.

The next day, several people commented that I had gotten a “nice” haircut. Haircut compliments are a fine thing, for women. Not noticing a woman’s haircut means that the changes are within a range of subtlety undetectable to your average guy, or that the haircut is so bad that a compliment is impossible; the charade of the lie is just too painful for all. When other men notice a man’s haircut, it just isn’t good. Several asked me where I got it. 100 percent they wanted to make sure that they never end up at the same place.

Fortunately, I have impressive hair regeneration powers. Once my sides grow in, I’ll be able to leave the house again. In the meantime, feel free to send in your bad overseas haircut stories. Misery loves company.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just ended up with a Kojak myself. I had a reliable friend write the equivalent of "2.5 cm off the top" in French because I usually want an inch cut off back home. Unbeknown to me, the hairdresser's thumb had covered the 2 while she read the note and she proceeded to cut 5 cm off the middle of my head with a razor before I could say a word, not that she would have understood.