Even after five years in this country, I find going to the hairdresser an anxiety-ridden experience. Never mind that the staff are all impossibly thin and chic------the problem is that there's typically something lost in translation. Usually this is my fault: either the hairdressers don't understand my accent or I understand the gist of what they say, but fail to grasp crucial details! Such miscommunication can result in a surprising new look.
A case in point: yesterday, I asked Jada, my usual colourist to revive some subtle honey-coloured highlights to my light brown shoulder-length hair. This should have been a simple process, as she'd done exactly the same thing at my last visit and had written specific references on my client card. But Jada said she wanted to add more and bolder highlights. In French, I responded, "Only a little more."
At first I wasn't worried, even though I'd forgotten my "comfort" book that usually accompanies me to the hairdresser: The Best of Adair Lara: Prize-winning Columns from the San Francisco Chronicle. Adair's writing never fails to inspire or make me smile. In the rush to get out the door, I couldn't find that book. Instead I grabbed Jean Sasson's Mayada: Daughter of Iraq. This was my first mistake of the morning, because the book, albeit fascinating is about women being tortured under Saddam Hussein's regime. Not exactly soothing reading.
My second mistake was the difference between Jada's idea of "a few" more highlights and my perception of Jada's version of same. During the more than two hours I sat in that colourist's chair, here's a sampling of my thoughts/worries:
"Doesn't that seem like a lot of bleach? Why is she going so close to the roots? Isn't that going to be really blonde? Really, really blonde? She knows I don't like my hair blonde. What is she doing? Why is she spending so much time on that particular spot? Is there a big blonde splotch on the top of my head? Oh, no, I remember years ago when I tried to highlight my own hair and ended up racing to the hairdresser for emergency repair, because there was a giant blonde patch on the top of my head. And on the day I was to interview the singer Steve Wariner! Luckily, that hairdresser managed to salvage my hair. Oh surely it couldn't be as bad as that time! After all, Jada's a professional. She hasn't messed up my hair before; why should today be any different?"
"What on earth is she doing?? WHY won't she leave that spot near the side part alone? Something must be really wrong!" In between various procedures, I kept reading Sasson's vivid tales of women being tortured. "Ok, let's keep this in perspective. At least you're not undergoing physical torture. Whatever is happening to my hair can be fixed. Stop worrying; you're imagining things. The reason Jada keeps saying my hair colour is "superb" as she unwraps each (yellow) foil-wrapped strand is because she's trying to convince me that I'll like it. It's no wonder she's keeping me away from the mirror. It's too blonde; I just know it. The last time I was really blonde, I was in my '20s. Now I don't want that kind of attention."
Jada wraps my wet hair in a towel and I go downstairs where Gwenelle is waiting to cut it. As she unwraps the towel, I look in the mirror, horrified. Because the highlights aren't honey-coloured; au contraire they resemble nothing so much as flat champagne. Much much too light for my pale complexion. And way too many highlights. I look blonde. Very, very blonde. And pale. And ashen... And older! How could this happen??!!
I can see by Gwenelle's expression that she's thinking pretty much the same thing. But she's too discreet to comment, unless asked for her opinion. As she's expertly snipping away at my hair, I summon the courage to ask in the most uncritical way I can muster, "Don't you think it's a bit too blonde?" Gwenelle is obviously waiting for this moment, because she stops cutting and asks if I want Jada to tone down the colour. "Is it possible?" I ask hopefully. "Yes, " she nods sagely. "It must be done."
Then she tries to track down Jada, who's having her lunch. Gwenelle gives me a cup of tea and says not to worry. By now, I've been there three hours and just want the whole thing done and dusted. I feel a headache coming on, as my blood sugar drops (how many hours since I ate anything?). A few minutes later Jada arrives, full of apologies. She dutifully applies some magic potion to "tone" the pale blonde to a more reasonable warm dark blonde. It's still blonder and bolder than I had wanted, but I can live with it. Everyone at the salon assures me the colour will "calm down" even more "tomorrow, or the next day," as it oxidises. They then present me with a bill for 158 euros. And I walk down the street, one reluctant blonde.
Next visit to the hairdresser, I'll be sure to bring along Adair's book for comfort. Wait a minute-----was that a compliment murmured as that tall Frenchman walked past?