Wednesday, June 05, 2013

cutting it close

I was sitting in a barber chair in Bend getting what would turn out to be one of the worst haircuts I have ever had.

When I sit down in a barber chair, I usually like to read without interruption.  Apparently, that has become a long-forgotten custom.  Or, at least, the young woman cuttng my hair had never heard of it.

From the moment I sat down, she reeled off question after question.  For a moment I thought Christiane Amanpour had gone undercover.

"Where do you live?"  "Why did you move there?"  And, yes: "Isn't it dangerous?"  The type of questions you might anticipate from a high school journalism student.

And then, zinging in from left stage: "Do they have beauty salons [Note the "salons," nothing so mundane as "shops" or as musty as "parlors"] in Mexico?"

She may as well have asked me if there is tea in China or rancho music in Nogales.  After wiping the mix of shock and snobby sneer off of my face, I responded: "Yes, there are beauty shops in Mexico.  In my little village, there is one on every other block, it seems."

I should have left it there.  But her amazement that such things existed in Mexico was enough to egg me on.  When I get in My Father Knows Best mode, there is little to stop me.

In my best professorial tone, I went on.  "But that should not be too surprising.  Mexicans are an entrepreneurial people.  They love setting up businesses.  And low skill, small capital investments -- like beauty parlors -- are a natural mix."

I was a bit surprised at her reflection in the mirror.  I expected gratitude.  Instead, her face was a mixture of "How could you forget my birthday again -- this is the sixth time!" and "Just where have you been all night?"

My bafflement ended with: "Low skills?  I'll have you know ... ."  And I heard a lot of words following the imperative.

When she calmed down, she said she was asking because a "client" of hers had come back from Cancun and told her that she could make millions of dollars down there because Mexico had no American beauty products in the salon.

I let the worm on that hook wiggle until it drowned.  I was not going to be drawn into another lecture based on -- what? ignorance, misplaced superiority, a foundation in economics that would thrill a politician?  I just let her finish up.

These exchanges always amaze me.  But they are not restricted to misconceptions about Mexico.  When my parents came to visit me in Greece, one of the men traveling with their group told me he was terribly disappointed that there were not more people singing in the streets of Athens.  The Happy Peasant myth seems to be universal in the American mind.

The Mexican women in my village obviously devote a good deal of time on their hair and their nails.  The beauty shops are always filled with women spending money on putting their dead fingernail and hair cells to the duty of fashion.

That may be because not much money is spent on traditional fashion. 

Young women here wear conservative shorts and blouses.  Even for swimming.  Anything more revealing is reserved for tourists from Mexico City or Guadalajara. 

If you see a thong bathing suit in a shop or six inch stiletto heels on the street, you know the wearer is not from around here (unless it is one of the local transvestites).

So, yes, my clip joint cutter, there are beauty salons in Mexico.  And they perform the same function as in Bend.  To let women look good for their women friends.  Young Mexican men in board shorts are as oblivious of female fashion as are American young men in their Camaros. 

As for me, I earned a hair cut to show that honesty is not always the best policy when I am talking with, and in in the care of, a woman wielding scissors.


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