Expat Life: Getting Sheared

by Miss Footloose

Is your hair out of control? Are you desperate for a haircut, but you don’t want to leave the house and brave the polar weather? Are you considering hacking away at your Medusa tresses with scissors? Can’t you stand looking at yourself in the mirror?

Let me cheer you up!

I have a story for you about a foreign shearing I once experienced in a country far, far away. It was, let’s say, an interesting experience.

This photo below is of the town of Yerevan, capital of Armenia, in the dead of winter. I’m now living in France, but some years ago I started a new expat life in Armenia, arriving in the middle of an arctic January.

winter in YerevanWintry Yerevan. Photo © Manan Tevosyan used by permission

My second day in my new habitat I had my first adventure: I got a haircut! Here goes:

The Expat Gets Sheared

I’ve been in the Armenia less than two days. Yesterday someone from my husband’s new office took me house hunting, and this morning someone else took me around to show me where to do the shopping. Now it’s afternoon and while my man labors away at his new office, I’m scouting around town on my own to see what I can see, walking very carefully in my new boots, shivering in my also-new down-filled coat.

It is so cold, so cold!

I’m not in this photo taken by my (later to be) friend G. Peterson, but I might as well be.

winter in Yerevan

Ice-covered sidewalks threaten broken limbs, grim stone buildings exude bleakness and gloom, and why is everyone dressed in black? I asked one of the office staff this question and she gave me a blank stare for a moment, as if she had never noticed or thought about it. “Because we like it,” she said finally. “Black is our national color.”

Not surprisingly, one of the other things I notice is Armenian words everywhere, on road signs and billboards and shop windows. Written in the Armenian alphabet, which is unique and indecipherable. There is no way to even make educated guesses.

Armenian AlphabetYerevan Cheese Shop Photo © Deb Collins used by permission

I hail from the country of  tulips and cheese. Growing up European, you learn a couple of languages here and there, and usually you can fake your way around the continent. But not here. Not only the alphabet, but the Armenian language itself is unique, not related to any other languages in the universe. I see Russian on signs and buildings as well (Russian was the official language in Soviet times), but that doesn’t do me much good either.

So I am not a little bit ecstatic when . . .

in the center of town near Independence Square I spot the English words hair saloon on a sign with an arrow pointing into a courtyard. This gives me great hope for an English speaker inside. And because I really do need a haircut and because maybe it’s warm inside, I’m thinking I might as well give this a try. I find the “saloon” and push open the door.

Hope shatters as soon as I enter. It’s only just above freezing inside the tiny space and none of the three girls (wearing serious party make-up) speaks English. With no other clients there to help, they try Armenian on me, and then Russian. Then they give up.

I’ve never felt like such an illiterate in my life

Actually that is a lie. I’ve felt like that in Palestine and Indonesia where I lived as an expat as well. Anyway, it’s clear that by next week I still won’t speak either Russian or Armenian, and hey, a haircut is not rocket science. So I make a snipping gesture and then indicate a couple of centimeters, about an inch, between my thumb and index finger. So far so good. I settle myself in a chair and the fake blonde goes for it while keeping up a running conversation with her buddies shivering in their shabby fur coats. I don’t want to sound paranoid, but I suspect they’re discussing me by the way they’re checking me out — my funny light-colored coat, my inelegant flat-soled boots. All three are wearing seriously sexy boots with 4-inch spiky heels. I shudder to think how they manage the ice-covered streets.

Some time later my stylist is finished with me and I look really interesting. (No, I don’t have a picture.)

What I meant when I indicated the inch or so was to have that much hair cut off, not to have that much left.

I’ve been sheared

And just in case you didn’t know this, hair keeps your head warm, if you have it. I stare at my funky self in the mirror. What to do? Screaming is hard work, so I decide to be Zen about it. It is what it is. Hair will grow back.

My stylist writes down the amount I owe her, in standard numerals, thank God, and I pay it. It’s only three times as much as I should have been charged, or so someone tells me the next day. My sincere hope is that these shivering girls get enough suckers like me to be able to save up for a functioning space heater.


NOTE: Living the expat life, you know you get suckered at times. It’s part of the deal, part of the price you pay for living such an exotic life (I hear you laugh). Sometimes it makes you furious, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it even makes you laugh. I’ve found that laughing works best.

* * *

As an innocent abroad, or an experienced expat, have you ever been cheated but you didn’t really mind? Please share your tale and make my day!

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As we say in good Dutch “je bent pas verneukt als je je verneukt voelt’ … so I typically shrug about the swindling. As long as I paid what I consider a fair amount I’m all good, even if a local pays less. It’s like an expat tax you have to pay. In Indonesia they sometimes even formalise it when at temples locals pay a very different price than tourists. It seems fair enough. And it is nice to be transparent about it.

oh my word, I’ve had many near misses with hair dressers, dentists and doctors as well as just shopping experiences and I’ve only lived in The UK, South Africa and Dubai where English is spoken freely, but with cultural differences so much gets lost in translation. Thanks for linking with #pocolo

Dr. Wendy

Awesome blog. I’m a stalker! 🙂 Passed you the Leibster Award. http://www.educatingwendy.com/2012/07/leibster-awards.html


I have lived abroad long enough to appreciate that as you have said getting swindled is part of the bargain. I have also had some weird hair cuts even when I spoke the local language. I am still nervous in the French open markets due to my inability to understand the metric measurements. I once requested 5 liters of cherries!!! Oh la la!

guyana gyal

I get fleeced in my own hometown and in the Caribbean, which I consider my own place too. My sense of humour deserts me then!


You got fleeced 😉 I can’t think off hand of a time I didn’t mind getting cheated. I always hated it. Like Greg says, all those little half dollars add up, although in retrospect it just becomes another story, another aspect of expat life. There were times I made it work for me, and times I laughed about it with the person trying to cheat me. Once my daughter was about 8 or 9, and a group of friends (all expats) were doing a scavenger hunt at a party. There were the normal things on the list (find a goat… Read more »


My first week in Burundi I was cheated almost every day. By the time the weekend rolled around, I didn’t want to get out of bed. Now, triple checking money is just a way of life.


I love the words of wisdom at the end of this post . I’m currently living in Quito, Ecuador and someone tries to get over on me everyday. Usually the difference between the “gringo tax” and regular price is about .50 cents. After being here awhile that half dollar gets to be worth fighting over. We have friends and family visiting all the time and they look at me with bug eyes as I refuse to pay the extra 25-50 cents someone is asking for a taxi’s, sun-glasses, meals you name it. After a while if you can’t laugh about… Read more »

chubby Chatterbox

I’m a fierce negotiator, but once in Cancun I bought a Mayan mask and I was the one who cheated the proprietor. I insisted I hadn’t been given the right amount of change and pressed the point, threatening to call the police. When I returned to my hotel and redid the math I realized I’d cheated THEM out of fifty bucks. They were shocked beyond belief when I returned the next day and handed them a fifty dollar bill. You don’t want any bad juju attached to to your Mayan mask.

Loved this! When we lived in Singapore, I felt like I got cheated all the time. Not by that much, but by that “round-eye-premium.” I totally get how you felt at that hair salon, I always felt like they were discussing me as well, but maybe they were just chatting about the weather. Have you ever seen that Seinfeld episode where Elaine is paranoid at the nail salon because she thinks the Chinese attendants are chatting about here? Must-see if you haven’t. I agree with you – the best thing to do is just put it on the “expat account”… Read more »

When we lived in Cairo I attended an orientation class with an Egyptian instructor. In talking about pricing she explained that their way of looking at it was that it was only fair for a poor man to pay less and a rich man to pay more. She said even the locals paid different amounts depending on their (perceived) wealth. In the absence of a government social safety net, it was their form of income redistribution, she said. Since then I’ve been much more philosophical about being ‘overcharged’ because I am a westerner. Another example of how living overseas make… Read more »

Oh my. Hair is tricky. I had the joy of a full leg and bikini wax in Kenya. I was ushered into a ‘cubicle’ (a hard table surrounded by insufficient shower curtains) and examined. I was pronounced “very hairy for a Mzungu”, and promptly slathered with hot wax, spread with that most sanitary of waxing tools; a butter knife. No sooner had the offending areas been defuzzed than I was swabbed down with a grey, tattered washcloth plucked from a washing-up bowl filled with tepid water of dubious origin, parted from significant amounts of money and thrust out through the… Read more »

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