Carolyn’s Diary Entry #4: HAIR

The longer I live in Moldova, the less frequently I experience things for the first time. Things that were once new are now old hat for me. I’m confident (more or less) in the grocery store, I feel comfortable on public transportation, and I even drive a car. Of course there are still things I haven’t done: been to a doctor (though I did go to a dentist!), been stopped by the police, or asked for directions in Romanian when lost (to name a few).

Just recently I was able to move something from the “not yet” list to the “mission accomplished” list. And that thing was getting my hair cut.

I am ashamed to say that I went more than six months since my last hair cut. It got to the point where my hair was too messy even for a messy bun. Then I knew it was bad. So I sat down with my live-in interpreter and walked him through pictures I found on google of the general hair cut I was going for. Let me tell you, friends, it was a tough call on how much was too much information for poor Daniel, but he did his best to understand my hair desires and off we walked to a nearby frizeur. I crossed my fingers that they would understand what we wanted and not steam roll me into some “trendy” hair cut that I didn’t want.

20+ years ago this would have been the valiant beginnings of a rat tail….but in modern times it is just my undercut growing out into a disaster.


A fifteen minute walk later we entered the frizeur only to be told that it would be a 30 minute wait. Now, salons are EVERYWHERE in Chișinău, surpassed in number only by dental offices. So we easily could have walked to another frizeur (or chickened out entirely), but we decided to stroll outside until the 30 minutes were up.

It was a classic Moldovan experience – a hair cut that ultimately turned into a two hour event – but the weather was warm and the sun was out. And who am I kidding…I didn’t have anywhere else to be! So we enjoyed our walk and then returned on time, eager for the adventure to really begin…

SPOILER: this is not a tear-streaked diary entry in which I sob over a botched hair cut. In fact, despite the wait, the whole experience was pleasant and uneventful. And I left with a haircut that I’m really pleased with. But don’t think that just because it was uneventful, it wasn’t quirky and thought-provoking.

This is the best picture I have of the inside of the salon. And yes – that is my hair cut.

Some high-lights (pun intended)

  • My hair dresser’s name was Karolina. And she was super smiley. We had lots of fun saying that “the Caroleens understand each other.” Even when we didn’t.
  • Karolina spoke Romanian and Russian fluently, but is eager to learn English. Because Daniel stayed with me only for the beginning of the appointment, we ultimately utilized a Romanian/English combo that pretty much worked. And when it didn’t we also we had “Caroleens se ințeleg” to fall back on.
  • She was really attentive to my hair. I got a great cut and a style at the end. Unfortunately I will never be able to recreate the style because she used 3 products that I have no idea what they are. Also I almost never style my hair….that might be the bigger problem here…
  • Did I mention we became facebook friends in the middle of the appointment?

Some low-lights (pun also intended)

  • So Moldova is kind of hot and humid, and AC is not as ubiquitous as it is in the US. This means I was literally dripping sweat for an entire hour sitting on my vinyl chair underneath the hair cutting cape. When I stood up at the end I expected to see two sweat marks where my legs had been.
  • Again I was reminded and saddened by how much people want to leave this country. I am something of a unicorn in this country. I come from America. Visas rain from the sky directly into my passport. Karolina said to me many times how much she wants to go and work in America. It makes me sad that her dream is not that big in the grand scheme of things, and yet I doubt she will be able to achieve it due to political and economic forces outside of her control.

And one medium-light…

My last thought has just as much to do with culture as it does with language. I realized that even if I were to know every word in Romanian that someone uses, I still might not understand what they are truly saying. For example, Karolina told me “Ești slabă” in the middle of my hair cut and then proceeded to ask me why. Even though I understood every word she said to me (“You are thin. Why?”) I still fumbled to respond because I did not expect this question from the hairdresser I had just met. It doesn’t make sense in American culture to ask a question that feels this invasive. In Moldova, though, it’s not such a big deal.

Learning a language fully is as much about knowing the verb structure and vocabulary words as it is about understanding the culture speaking it. My conversation about being thin was a good reminder that immersion is the best way to learn a language, even if the experience is sometimes good, sometimes bad, and always interesting.