This is something every cross-cultural woman faces with dread: getting her hair done. This may not seem like a big deal—until you try it. I remember the first time I attempted it in Costa Rica. We were three months into language school when I braved the beauty salon. I ended up asking for them to cut my horse.

“Eh?” they asked.

Mi caballo,” I repeated. Then I caught my mistake: “Cortar mi cabello.”

Another notch in my I-feel-like-an-idiot belt.

So I sat down, and before she did anything she began to play with my hair. Anything lighter than jet-black has always appealed to the Latin crowd. Ask our son Jonathan, who has had more people touch his blonde hair than he cares to remember—which, when you are four, is downright scary.

“Do you want pavos?” she asked.

My mind raced; I had heard that word. Oh yeah! That means turkey. What? Do I want what? Was she offering a sandwich? What was she talking about? Growing a bit impatient, she asked again.

“I don’t know. What is that?” I replied.

Pavos!” she said, pointing to her forehead.

Ahhh, bangs. Why in the world do they call them turkeys? Then again, why in the world do we call them bangs? And why in the world do language schools not offer a vocabulary class for all things feminine?

I survived that year of learning (among other things) beauty salon parlance. Then we arrived in Mexico. Of course, as hair does, mine grew. It was time to find another beautician. Sweaty palms looking through a phone book, fingers tapping nervously as ads are judged to see which one looks worthy. (Ms. Psychologist, please note this for your next study on missionary stress-factors). I found a place, made an appointment, and went. I asked the girl to please give me turkeys—er, pavos—but not to cut them too short.

Que?” the girl looked at me in confusion, her eyebrows popping up.

I repeated myself. She looked at her coworker, then back at me.

Really, does the student now have to be the teacher? So I pointed to my forehead and repeated, “Pavos.”  The light went on and she…laughed! She turned to her coworker, who also laughed. So that day I learned that in Mexico, bangs are called flecos, not pavos. I also ended up leaving there with my trimmed hair pulled tight into a ponytail with huge flecos that stuck out about two inches and curled under almost to my hairline.

I looked like every other Mexican in Chihuahua. That in itself is not bad, but the style was so not me! I quickly let my hair down, but my bangs would not budge for the amount of spray they had. My husband looked scared; my boys snickered.

About a year later, I decided to cut and highlight my hair. I went to another salon on a friend’s recommendation. I asked for rayos, the word I had heard for it. She started asking me a series of questions, and I had little idea what exactly she was saying. Finally, I caught the word luces (lights) and agreed. It had sounded right, at the time.

It is a miracle I made it home without an accident, since I kept glancing at myself in the rear-view mirror. She not only chopped too much off, she frosted my hair! I wanted highlights, not frosted hair! And this was not just a few strands…it was my entire head! Short, frizzy, and frosted! Visions of what I imagined Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, a character from my childhood reading, to look like danced in my head.

I was hoping to get some affirmation when I got home. Instead, my six year-old’s eyes grew larger than silver dollars, his jaw dropped open as he slowly took a step backward, and he finally said in a slight whimper, “You look old!” Now you know why I buy my hair color in the grocery store.

Today, I once again undertook the brave adventure of finding a salon here in Oaxaca, since I have not yet found one that I am sold on. I need to add here that I have not had my hair cut in five months, since we were in the States and I visited the JCPenney salon near my parents’ house. It had now become long, wild, and bushy. My husband kind of liked it, but enough was enough, and it needed trimming.

I told the stylist what I wanted: a little taken off in the back, layers all around, and the front down to my jawline. I took off my glasses and listened to the snip-snip of the scissors; I was feeling good about myself. My daughter sat and watched. The hair dresser then began drying and styling my hair, and, like every woman reading this, I began imagining myself sporting the exact cut I wanted. Fresh. A bit youthful. Maybe even snazzy. I could hardly wait to put my glasses on and check out my new look.

My reverie suddenly popped and came crashing down with my daughter’s voice, “Hey, Mom, you look like Grandma!”


© 2012 Women of the Harvest.

Question to Consider: What’s your Hair Story?…we know you have one!