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…