Learn How to Say “Enough”

Since beginning this trip, I’ve taken my fair share of calculated risks. I’ve fed a scrap of raw fish to a wild seal, shared a campsite with a hippo and rode a scooter of questionable working order to the top of a mountain. But none of that compares to what I did this past weekend.

I visited a Spanish salon.

My first mistake was that I walked through the front door and recited the most complex sentence I have ever composed in another language:

Tienes tiempo para un corte de pelo? / Do you have time for a haircut?

This led the staff to believe that I speak Spanish, which I do not, or that I at least knew what I wanted. In actuality, I had no idea.

A bit of backstory for those of you not in the know: I relax my hair, a habit I got into by accident several years ago and decided to give up while traveling. (Full story and pictures on that, here.)

True to my word, I hadn’t touched my hair since February. So by the time I got to Spain, it was halfway back to its natural glory. It also, coincidentally, looked like a nest. So I was at a crossroads: Stick it out for a few more months and let it return to full curly or get back on the relaxer train and smooth this mess the hell out today. I couldn’t decide, so I let someone else figure it out for me.

The short version of the story is that I walked into the salon, said my line, answered yes to every question thereafter and came out €400 poorer.

The long version is worth telling only because Paula, the stylist who began my visit by inspecting my hair as though it were a pipe bomb, was a full two times the character of the woman who does my hair in New York. And just to put that in perspective, my regular stylist is someone who thinks that red wine is an “anytime drink” and often wears a beret indoors. When she switched employers and I tried to track her down on Google, I turned up mug shots for her in two states.

In any case, what follows is a rough translation of my conversation with Paula – or at least my best guess of it, now that I have the benefit of knowing how it all played out.

Stylist: So how much of your hair would you like cut?

Me: An inch?

Stylist: An inch?! What the hell is an inch? This is Europe! Actually, never mind. Don’t answer that. Whatever amount you were thinking, let’s double it and then cut more than that.

Me: Fine. The ends are a mess.

Stylist: The ends?! Ha! That’s what I thought. And then I saw the roots!!

Me: I know. I get it relaxed and it’s growing out.

Stylist: Here’s my professional opinion: Your best option is to just let me do whatever I want. Because that’s what I’m going to do anyway.

Me: Yes. I know.

Stylist: Quite frankly, this situation calls for nothing short of a miracle. But I’m going to do my very best, I want you to know that. I have a cream that can help you. Do you want to try it?

Me: Is it a relaxer? Because I don’t think I want to relax it again.

Stylist: No, it’s a cream. It smells like sulfur and goes on like a cast. After that, I wrap your head in cellophane and sit you in front of an oscillating fan for 15 minutes. There’s no real reason for that last part other than I want to go outside and have a cigarette. It’s €125.

Me: As long as it’s not a relaxer.

Stylist: It’s not. It’s a cream. You should just think of it like magic!

Me: Alright, let’s do that.

Stylist: The whole thing takes 40 minutes, but for you, I’ll make it three hours.

Me: I don’t love that.

Stylist: Great, now hold still. I want to try and spray these chemicals directly in your eyes. It will wash right out later, don’t worry. Oh! I just had an idea! You know what would be good? If you put a gloss on top of the cream.

Me: Is it keratin? Because I don’t want to do those any more either.

Stylist: No, just a gloss. It’s going to look and smell like keratin to you, but it’s not. As a distraction, I’ll give you a free facial. It comes out of an unmarked jar because it’s really just Greek yogurt but no one knows the difference. I apply it with a butter knife and then put a hot paper towel on top of your eyes. You sit like that for an hour and when I take it all off, the keratin, I mean GLOSS!, will already be on.

Me: OK, great.

Stylist: What’s the matter? Is your scalp burning? Well good! That just means it’s working. Sometimes that happens when you mix magic cream and a gloss. You probably won’t be able to sleep lying down tonight and maybe tomorrow too, but after that it should be fine. It’ll be worth it, trust me. Wait until you see it!

Me: OK.

Stylist: People don’t know this, but when you’re doing hair, what you really need to do, is burn the scalp. That’s the only way to set a treatment. Hang on, there’s yogurt in your ear.

Me: Please get it out.

Stylist: OK. Now I’m going to blow dry your hair. Don’t be alarmed by all the smoke that comes off your head. That’s just the heat reacting with the chemicals. It’s no big deal, we just can’t light a match in this room for a while. But you don’t need to worry. They tested all these products on animals and hardly anything bad happened to them until they all died 30 days later.

Me: Great.

Stylist: You understand Spanish well!

Me: If you speak slowly, I can understand better.

Stylist: Oh then I’ll have to speak faster. How else will I sell you a €40 shampoo? It comes in a large glass bottle that would be great for traveling.

Me: Oh that sounds nice. But I don’t want it.

Stylist: Are you sure? You’d be insane to pass this up. Hang on. I’ll go get it so that you can see it. I need to let some of this smoke clear anyway.

[two minutes later]

Stylist: I had an idea!

Me: Oh no.

Stylist: You should meet my son!

Me: [laughter]

Stylist: He’s very handsome. He works in a bike shop. He gives city tours. He’s 23.

Me: I’ll be 34 next month.

Stylist: NO!

Me: YES!

Stylist: Thirty four! Well my goodness… you’re OLD. You need your hair colored! Have you ever considered a reverse ombre? I’m just suggesting the most high-maintenance style I could think of.

Me: No, thank you. My color is the one thing that’s still natural. Please just iron this keratin – GLOSS! – I didn’t agree to out and I’ll be on my way.

Stylist: OK. And what time do you want to come back tomorrow?

Me: Tomorrow?!?!?!

Stylist: Oh yes! You need to come back tomorrow so that I can see how your scalp is healing. Like a doctor! And Wednesday too!

Me: That sounds insane!

Stylist: It is. That’s how we do everything here.

Me: Fine. Put me down for 1 p.m. both days and I won’t show up for either.

Stylist: Perfect!

Me: Oh. I see why you like this game. I can say anything and as long as I do it with a smile, you agree.

Stylist: Yes.

Me: Well, I have to say, this is much more fun when I’m the one in the know.

Stylist: Yes! See you tomorrow!

Me: Not a chance! BYE!

Needless to say, I didn’t go back the next day. Nor did I give her my actual telephone number for her son.

When my friend pointed out the risk of the first and the potential missed opportunity of the second, I waved her concerns away.

“Really? A 23 year old in a bike shop?” I asked. “What is this, Brooklyn?! Like I came all the way to Spain to dabble in that.”

“OK, fine,” she said. “But what if your hair falls out?”

It’s a fair point, but I’ve decided to take my chances. If it does, so be it. That’ll be the greatest example of Advice I Needed Yesterday yet.

And I’m sure there’s a miracle cream for that anyway.

  1. Some years ago we were half way through a six month adventure and our Middle East tour had stopped in Aleppo, I decided I needed my hair tamed. I walked out with a cleopatra fringe with a short back and sides cut…..luckily I had another 3 months before returning home and was able to get away with wearing a hat in most photos…..

    • well… might i suggest a beret? :) kidding, i’m sure you wore it well. anyone who spends 6 months in the Middle East can probably pull off any style. xx

  2. You are so brave. I moved to Spain for six months in October 2015 and was too scared to get my hair cut by a Spanish salon the whole time I was there. And I have pretty basic shoulder length hair with a slight wave. The two things that held me back most were 1. the fact that, in 15 years I have never cheated on my hairstylist who is based in Toronto (even when I lived in Houston for 4 months!), and 2. I don’t speak Spanish well enough and fear an experience like what you went through. Instead, when my hair was nearing my waist and becoming irreversibly destroyed by sun and salt air, I resorted to letting my boyfriend do a straight cut across the back, taking off about four inches. My Toronto hairstylist agreed that it was acceptable alternative. When I go back to Spain again for six month this October, I still won’t be brave enough to visit a salon. On that front, I will live vicariously through you.

    • Well if it’s any consolation, my hair turned out great! But I get it… It’s a risk. Do what you think is best. Have a fabulous time when you go back to Barcelona… I loved it there. If you find yourself in a pinch, I can hook you up with Paula!

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