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Talking to strangers

March 11, 2010

Yesterday I went to  see my friend Ann, who cuts my hair and tells all. We met more than 10 years ago at her first job – a Regis salon in the mall – when my sister and I were walk-ins. Ann broke the ice by confiding in us about a missed period (false alarm).

It was TMI of the bonding variety. Within a couple of years, we were guests at her wedding; a few years more, she came to mine (after doing our updos, of course). My son wears her boys’ hand-me-downs and plays with their cast-off toys. I followed her to the salon she now owns, and I’ve recruited my husband, mother-in-law and so many close friends and coworkers that sometimes Ann gets the gossip before I do.

At Ann’s, no story is too personal, no subject is taboo, and hushed tones are used for dramatic effect, not privacy.  And I know that when it comes to hair salons, those are nearly universal rules. What is it about a stylist’s booth that makes it a girlfriends’ confessional? The copies of Glamour and Cosmopolitan, O and Redbook are enablers, but they aren’t working alone.

Maybe it’s the salon’s etymological association with those [17th century French] palatial rooms suitable for [19th century French] entertaining gatherings of the fashionable, notable and intellectual. Let’s see: the mirrors gleam, we gather to look more fashionable, and the conversation is stimulating, if sometimes frivolous. So…no, not quite.

But there’s something about the long mirrors, the aerosol fog and the warm, undisguised vanity that makes for a chatty clientele; when their extensions are out or their true color revealed, conversational caution goes out the window.  I’m a simple cut-and-style gal with no beauty secrets, but being privy to others’ puts me in the same boat. Yesterday we talked about family photoshoots, surgical enhancements, layoffs, pregnancy tests, spring bulbs, ex-husbands, local elections, and some of those darndest things kids say.

My best friend says I get my hair done more often than anyone she’s ever met, which is a) because she almost never goes (when we lived closer to each other, she talked me into cutting her hair) and b) because she never met my Grandma Mary or anyone else with a standing weekly appointment for style maintenance and beauty shop talk.

I don’t go that often, but I almost would. Even around here, where we’re supposed to be known for friendliness among strangers, we’re now so constantly in touch with the people we do know that we hardly notice the ones we don’t, much less talk to them. So I appreciate the oversharing at the salon, the occasional conversation that makes a too-long checkout line pass more quickly, the introductions made at the playground after our kids have already made theirs – opportunities to slowly outgrow the don’t-talk-to-strangers mantra.

Caution and moderation never hurt, though. A couple of weeks ago as I stood in line with Jack at Walmart, the woman behind me opened with a friendly “Did you know he has a rash on his face?” There’s also the time at the deli counter that a man told my mother: “You look like you own dogs.” What she heard was You look like you’re on drugs, and it’s hard to say which was worse.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2010 10:30 pm

    I laughed so hard at your last paragraph… because that’s just not right! 🙂
    It’s true about salons though – you do feel compelled to be more open than usual. In a room full of (mostly) women, you are vulnerable with your hair in someone else’s control… you might as well let it all out!

  2. milkandmusic permalink
    March 11, 2010 11:03 pm

    Love this: “But there’s something about the long mirrors, the aerosol fog and the warm, undisguised vanity that makes for a chatty clientele; when their extensions are out or their true color revealed, conversational caution goes out the window.”
    And this: “Even around here, where we’re supposed to be known for friendliness among strangers, we’re now so constantly in touch with the people we do know that we hardly notice the ones we don’t, much less talk to them.”
    And the rest of it 🙂

  3. March 12, 2010 5:36 pm

    I loved the same clips that milkandmusic pointed out – this is all just so good, and true.

    Sadly, I haven’t been in a salon in so long, like, eight years, maybe? And even then it was one in a mall where I felt lost in my seat with a total stranger tousling my hair.

    This makes me want to find someplace nearby to try again…

  4. March 13, 2010 7:45 pm

    I’m with @Trailer Queen: I adore this post – the imagery and ideas you conjure with it – and it makes me long to find just such a salon in my own community. (And not just because I am in desperate need of a haircut!)

    Your post also made me think of those Barbershop movies and a couple of recent documentaries (the names of which I can’t remember, but one was produced by Chris Rock) about the importance of barbershops and beauty salons in the African-American community. It seems here like this is a larger social phenomenon those of us who let our hair grow a year in between cuts are missing out on.

  5. March 15, 2010 2:13 am

    I first read that last line as “you look like YOUR own dogs.” Also not really something you want to hear.

    I loved my stylist in NY. He was psychic. He knew I was pregnant before I did, among other predictions.

  6. March 15, 2010 7:18 pm

    Wow – it’s a mystery indeed. I found you via Kristen@Motherese. Very insightful!

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