Splitting Hair on Haircuts in Canada

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Yep, Need A Haircut (Self Portrait, 2011)

Who would have known haircuts were such a complicated matter in Canada, and involve so much etiquette?

The first thing I did when I came here in 2002 was to get a haircut. I wanted to lose the backpacker hairstyle (messy hair bleached by the sun) that looked out-of-place in cold Ottawa. Feng drove me to a mall and dropped me off at the first hair salon we spotted. I don’t remember how I somehow manage to communicate with the stylist—I’m pretty sure fancy words like “trim” and “layers” weren’t part of my vocabulary. However, I do remember flinching at the price tag of the 30-minute haircut: “ouch, that was cheaper in France!”

I quickly learned that here, paying $50 to $80 for a haircut was normal. To that, you have to add taxes (+ 15%)… and tips.

If you don’t tip 15-25% on top of the bill you will not only break a social rule: bad things will happen to you. The receptionist won’t find any appointment, you’ll have bad hair and the entire salon will laugh at how cheap you are. Oh, and don’t get me started on the proper etiquette, which apparently involves giving your hairstylist a big Christmas bonus at the end of the year. Seriously?!

Although I comply, I never truly understood tipping, probably because I’m from a culture that doesn’t tip and because I’ve never worked in a tipping job. As far as I’m concerned, tipping should never be mandatory.

Back to haircuts. I don’t care about my hair. I don’t dye it (although I used to when I was a teen), I don’t blow-dry it (that’s what the wind is for, right?) and I don’t style it (why bother?). I had long hair, braided hair (please, don’t ask for pictures, that was a long time ago) and I’ve had short hair for a few years now. I do have very thick hair though. It’s a blessing in disguise: I need a haircut once in a while otherwise it looks like I’m wearing a wig, but it keeps me warm and I don’t really need to style.

For years, I went to any salon in any mall I happened to be in. But these salons were usually super busy and you could be left dripping water because the stylist was juggling several clients at a time. So I started my quest for a salon.

I eventually found one and stuck with it for a little while until my stylist argued with the owner and left. She called me to see if I’d be willing to go to the new salon she was working in. I followed her. One summer, she went back home to Ireland for several months. I really needed a haircut and was booked with another stylist. When she returned, the receptionist refused to book me with stylist #1 and stated I had to see stylist #2. I insisted but didn’t get my way. And of course, when my old stylist spotted me with stylist #2, she gave me a hurt look. “No honey”, I wanted to say, “I didn’t cheat on you. They made me to”. Eventually, the little war between the two stylists got on my nerves and I decided to find another salon. I know, I’m a coward.

The new salon was promising. Sure, the receptionists sized up anyone who walked in (I know I have bad hair, that’s why I’m coming!) and my stylist always try to sell me products (I always made excuse not to buy). But it worked out fine and I more or less got the cut I wanted.

So, how did I break up with that salon? Well, I didn’t. It did, after going there for a year or so. I started sending my usual email before being due for a cut, something along the line of “hi, I’d like to come for a cut with Scissor God, any day any time after 5 p.m. is fine”. “Scissor God only works Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. I’ll book you in at 10:05 a.m.”. “Please don’t”, I replied. “I work 9 to 5 and can hardly take a morning off to get a haircut. Anything AFTER 5 p.m.?” Terse answer: “No, he doesn’t work evenings”. “Who does?” “Scissor Queen does”. “Can I have an appointment after 5 p.m. with Her Highness?” “Yes”.

Her Highness Scissor Queen was the most talkative person I ever met. She sat me in the chair and started yapping about the classes she was taking at university. I tried to interrupt her to explain what I wanted done. She brushed me off: “I know you want a cut, so I’ll cut”. Well, I guess at least she didn’t shave my head. I should be grateful for that. Although after 30 minutes of her constant self-centered whining I was that close to ask her to cut off my head.

Scissor Queen was not a good fit. I do not feel like coming back to this salon. So now I’m back to square one, I need to find a place that doesn’t charge an arm and a leg. The quest continues…

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

29 Comments

  1. This post made me laugh. This is why we tip our hairstylists since it’s so hard to find a good one, that when we do find a good one, we want to keep them and be able to get an appointment with them :). Also, Canadians tend to tell their hair stylists a lot of personal information, that they might not tell other people. I don’t what it is about them, but I always end up telling my stylist more than I should. Better luck with your next hair cut 🙂

    • I swear I tipped! 😆 For a while, I thought I wasn’t generous enough and it was why it was so hard to get an appointment. But come on… I think I didn’t come to the salon enough.

  2. I hate the dilemma of finding a hairdresser in a new city – its a nightmare.
    It sounds similar to my experience in Switzerland so far:

    – A haircut is about 4 times the price I used to pay in Spain
    – There are only two salons with a english-speaking hairdresser and one of them I already crossed out of my list (he thought he was cutting hair for a weird-fashion magazine and ruined the last 8 months of my life, and counting)
    – This leaves me with one salon and a hairdresser that only works wednesdays and fridays and closes at 6:30PM.

    I usually have to take 2 hours lunch break and then catch up in the evening whenever I want to do something with my hair…!!

    • How much did you pay in Spain, roughly? In France, I used to be able to get a haircut in a nice salon for about 25 euro. It’s rare that things are cheaper in France than in Canada… but it happens!

  3. La seule et unique fois où je suis allée me faire couper les cheveux au Canada a été un désastre complet. Déjà, elle m’a coupé les cheveux à sec, c’était une première pour moi. Ensuite, je ne sais pas, c’était indescriptible. J’ai cru que j’allais pleurer dans le salon. En 15min, elle a coupé à droite à gauche, vaguement. Ce qui devait être un carré plongeant a été une coiffure où j’avais des cheveux de 20cm d’un côté, 30 de l’autre, et avec des mèches non coupées à l’arrière. De toute ma vie, c’était la première fois que j’ai du couper mes propres cheveux en rentrant chez moi (et j’ai fait un super beau carré plongeant, d’ailleurs). Bref, une grosse perte de temps, d’argent et de larmes. En rentrant en France, j’en ai parlé à mon coiffeur et il m’a dit que les nords-américains ne venaient pas de la même “école” et n’utilisaient pas les mêmes techniques que les coiffeurs européens, lui-même ayant fait un stage là bas, m’a dit que ce n’était pas aussi précis, soigné et rigoureux. Ah !

    • Oh non! Je n’ai jamais eu à retoucher mes cheveux moi-même. C’est horrible le moment où on est chez le coiffeur et on s’aperçoit que c’est pas du tout mais alors pas du tout la coupe qu’on veut. Moment de solitude…

  4. I feel bad for you. Most women I know definitely have a hard time finding the right hairstylist for them. I guess that’s just the norm. Here in Buffalo, I get a haircut once every 5 weeks, and I pay 22 USD for it. I get it from an Iranian hairstylist that I found the very first time I got a haircut in Buffalo, so I have been going to her place ever since. If she is not available, I go to her protege, which she trained herself. I am satisfied with the protege’s style too. And they both cut well: I want a fauxhawk, they do it well; I want a messy look, and that looks well too. Now I am afraid of getting a haircut somewhere else, because I love my current place so much.

    • I think it’s a bit easier for guys… There are quite a few barbers here and they charge much less, and still do a great job. But they mostly deal with short hair…

  5. Great post as always, and “good” timing for me, because soon I need to get my first haircut in Canada. And now I’m more scared than ever 😉

    I think the mandatory tipping here is something us Europeans will never ever get used to, same goes for the added taxes. For an instant you’re thinking you’ve just made a great bargain, until the taxes are added and/ or you have to leave a huge tip…

    • I’m sorry I scared you! Just don’t be shocked at the final price (after tax and tip) and you’ll be fine. 😉 But you seem to know that already…! I really wish taxes were included on products it would make life so much easier!

  6. Are you serious? That is in average 40 Euros! I will buy a razor and shavemy head if I have tolive there and thatis the case. Ilive in theNetherlands and the cheapest wash-trim with style-and blow dry service I got here was Eur 12,50 and the most expensive (my current hair salon of choice) charges me Eur 28,50 for these 3 services. That is so darn expensive there in Canada!

    • In France, I used to get a haircut for about 20 Euro at one of the franchise salons like Jean-Louis David. Okay, I did have a student discount at the time… But I had a haircut there a couple of years ago and it was definitely under 30 Euro (and no tax added – well, they were included – and no tipping). But 28.5 euro isn’t so that for Europe, considering.

  7. It’s at least 30 to 40 euros in Paris to get your hair cut! I haven’t cut my hair in France yet, it kind of worries me because most Frenchwomen have straight hair and I don’t! I’ll probably try a fancy salon if I ever end up getting my bank account in order 😉

    • That much? I’ve never had a haircut in Paris, in Nantes it’s definitely under 30 euro. I used to go to Jean-Louis David or Dessange, these salons are everywhere.

  8. Ah – the old “men and women pay different prices for the same thing”… And wouldn’t you know, it’s always the women’s price that is higher. Whether it’s haircuts or dry cleaning or even clothes that can be considered unisex but are also sold separately in men’s and women’s stores or departments, the girls pay more for the same thing.

    I am a guy, and I go to an old-style barber shop, where the youngest barber is probably around 40 years old, and the oldest looks about 80. But the one I go to is a woman from China (near Harbin, so used to cold weather), and she does my hair for $20. She does my 13-year-old son’s hair for $12, and in both cases it’s a great job. I tip about 15%, so for me it’s $23.

    Some barber shops will happily do women’s hair too, even if they don’t advertise it. I think for women the trick is to go to a small local place, rather then a fancy chain. If you must go to the fancy chain place (in Toronto, say Fiorio), do what my wife does – she calls them in advance and books an appointment with a “junior stylist”, and it costs half the price of the senior ones that you get if you walk in.

    But I sense there is a pride thing that’s different for men and women: if I get a cheap haircut (and it looks OK), I will tell everyone, but I think many women don’t want to admit it if they got the cheap cut, even if it looks great.

    • I must admit I’ve never tried going to a barber shop. I went along with Feng a few times and I’ve never seen any female customers…

      I had my last haircut in Singapore in a small Chinese salon and it was perfect. The owner was a bit apprehensive at first because, well, she wasn’t used to my Western hair but she did a great job. I didn’t mind the cheap haircut, it did the job. I love splurging for massage once in a while but when it comes to haircut, I only care about the result, not the process.

  9. I had the same problem with my first cut in Canada. $50 plus tips just for a trim was shocking to me!
    I found out that the hairdressing & beauty colleges here in Vancity offer all kinds of hair treatment services provided by their students under supervision of their teachers, and it’s all just at the fraction of price (around 10$-12$). Maybe a haircut will take longer than just 30 min, but the end result is no different (if not better) from the established hair salons. And as far as I know, they are open also on weekends…

    • Great minds think alike! I was just doing research the other day and found a salon where junior stylists charge much less. I don’t care if it takes longer to get a haircut, and I don’t care if it’s not 100% perfect. I’ll definitely try!

  10. Haircuts are so expensive here!
    I told a friend of mine who was coming to the US on a year long work assignment to get a haircut a day before leaving for the US.

    I’m glad the barber shop I go to now includes taxes in the $15 price and don’t utter a single word. lol

  11. Hi Zhu,

    LOL LOL LOL oh my God, I loved this post. I know it is an oldie, but since I just came from my hairdresser I thought it was suitable to read it.

    Poor you! Now, cutting your hair in Canada is expensive. Here it is cheaper, much cheaper (€11 for our kind of hair – yeah, mine is short as well).

    Last year I found a salon, in my neighbourhood, owned by Brazilians: I am telling you, I am in Heaven. You sit, you explain what you want and they execute it accordingly…amazing.
    For years I put my hair in the hands of incompetent people who never did what I told them. But my bad luck has ran out lol.

    Girl, my advise to you is: try looking for a salon that has Brazilians. They are on top of their game.

    Cheers

    • Now you say it, Brazilians (and Latinos in general) really know how to take care of their hair! I had a haircut in Uruguay when we were there and I loved it. Unfortunately, we don’t have a “Latinotown” in Ottawa… mmm, I should ask my latino friends where they get their hair cut.

  12. Some people like going to the hairdresser; I don’t. But, like you I need to do so every so often (once a year, twice if I’m motivated). I’ve always had a problem fighting with hairdressers so they wouldn’t do anything fancy and would not blow dry my hair! It became very expensive when moving to Ireland; it was the economic boom and salons were charging a fortune. Fortunately I found a nice stylist and even took pleasure going there to get my haircut when hungover. I trusted her and could just relax.
    Now that I live in the countryside, I have found the perfect place just down the road: €18 for a cut. I have to go there with wet hair and the price doesn’t include blow drying. Heaven I tell you! All I need to do is ring 10 minutes before I want to go to see if she is free. No waiting, nobody else in the place and I support local business!

    • That’s great!

      I also hate when salons blow-dry my hair, it looks funny on me and I can’t *really* see the result of the haircut because at home, I won’t blow-dry. So usually I head home, take a shower, wash my hair and then I can see whether I like the cut or not 😆

  13. Going to the hair dresser in Canada definitely involves some etiquette. I went for the first time when I was 19 (I’d cut my hair by myself before that) and ran into quite a learning curve. But now, I think I’m almost an expert. At least, I did until I moved to France.

    I had the same communication problem as you when I first got to France and I got some horrible cuts. Now, I can almost always get what I want, but I still don’t know how to tip or if I should tip or what! I’ve been tipping half of what I would in Canada, but I have no idea if I look like a big spender or cheap. Ugh!

    If you’ve got any tips on tipping (or not tipping) in France, I’d love to hear them!!

    • I’ve never ever tipped in France, mostly because I was a poor student but also because it’s not expected. Usually you leave some change at the restaurant, i.e. you don’t ask for your 2 euro back, but that’s about it.

      I had a haircut a couple years ago in France when I was visiting my parents, and I tipped the stylist because I got used to tipping in Canada. She was so embarrassed! She gave me tons of free samples and was really surprised I tipped her. It was funny actually 😆

  14. Hahaha, I feel so lucky to be a guy with short hair! I just have to walk-in to a parlour near me and spend 10 minutes to get a buzz cut. I know them, they know me, it takes no time and the affair costs me only $12 including tip. You have to book appointments? really??

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