Courageous or Crazy: Ridin' solo
Celeste is an entrant in the 2012 “i am not a tourist” Expat Fair Blog Competition.
We spent our first few months finding dog sitters, dog groomers, babysitters, daycare, where to buy paint, trash cans, ant killer, rugs, Duraflame-like lighters so I could stop using matches to light my stove, birthday candles, kids clothes, light bulbs, lamps, a toaster, a mop, and a vacuum cleaner. Finally, my last and final frontier to step over into the world of the Dutch service sector: a hairdresser. It seems simple, enough, but it is not. My friend who lives in Germany is terrified of getting her hair cut. She admits that she nearly cries through the hour and a half ‘trim’ as she sees her hair becoming shorter and shorter with each visit. Another friend here in The Netherlands told me a story of highlights-gone-wrong. It took at least 3 tries to fix the disaster and she explained that last years summer’s pictures were just all, well, not cute. To sum it up, an international hairdresser is a BIG deal.
My hairdresser at home: he’s my college roommate’s uncle, but he treats me as if we were family. He went to my college graduation. He took me from brunette to blonde years ago and we’ve never looked back. He performed miracles for me and my bridesmaids’ hair when the Louisiana 100% humidity was upon us on my wedding day. This man has heard countless dramatic stories about work, love, family, and friends as I sit in his chair. This man knows me. He also understands that I default to him. I’m a CPA and I’m okay with that. HE is the hair professional. I sit in his chair and say “Oh, whatever you feel like today, just make me look pretty,” and he does.
I peruse the Expat website and find that there’s a hairdresser highly recommended in Haarlem, a town outside of Amsterdam. In April, 3 months after my beloved last visit to Uncle Oscar in Dallas (and probably at least a few weeks overdue for my roots), my husband makes me an appointment and we drive the 30 minutes to Haarlem on Good Friday, the kids in the backseat.
We’re already running late because, well, we have two kids under two and then the GPS tries to direct us down a street that has been blocked off as pedestrian only. I’m starting to stress as we maneuver the car through a market and I realize there’s no hope of getting any closer via vehicle. This is it. I kiss him goodbye and with little piece of paper in hand, I jump out of the car while memorizing his verbal directions as the horns honk on the cobblestone road behind us. I high-tail it through the market and pedestrian footpaths and I find it: Toni and Guy, my destination. I open the door, flustered and 15 minutes late.
The concrete steel grey interior of the salon is bathed in an industrial light, and every employee is dressed in black. I am SO out of my element. I tell the receptionist my name, apologize for my misunderstanding of the pedestrian-only streets and she leads me to my chair. She kindly asks if I’d like something to drink, perhaps a tea or cappuccino, and I nod a thank you and pick out a tea bag from a large wooden case. I am introduced to the woman who is in charge of the highlights. She’s tall with dark flowy hair, dark eyes, and bright red lipstick. She is Dutch and speaks superb English.
In her Dutch (direct) way, she tells me that we will have to hurry because I was late. I apologise again and explain the GPS mishap, but she is less impressed than the receptionist, who didn’t seem to mind too much. I mention that I had gotten her name off of an Expat message board and she admits that she had a lot of Expat clientele. “Oh yes, I’ve seen all SORTS of horrible circumstances come through that door. Horrible. It’s amazing what some of these Dutch hairdressers will do. But I fix all their problems,” she says, with a wave of her hand.
“You are used to highlights using foil, correct?” she asks me. I’m still processing the ‘horrible circumstances’ comment, but manage to mumble a ‘yes, foil” in confusion. What are the other options? Reading my mind, she explained that some Dutch hairdressers use a “board.” I don’t know what that means. And I don’t really care to find out. This girl, whether intentional or not, is dishing out a scare tactic, ensuring herself some long-term job security, and I’m buying it hook, line, and sinker. She continues, “What type of shampoo do you use?” I swallow. Oh goodness. This is a trick question that I don’t even know enough to be able to lie and give a good answer. At home, I used Toni and Guy, actually. But I haven’t seen Toni and Guy products since I’ve been here, not even in this Toni and Guy salon.
I panic and just tell her the truth. “Dove,” I mumble. She frowns. “Well, you know, you have to be careful with those products. They can strip away your highlights,” she says tactfully. I sip my tea and I miss Oscar. I miss the fact that he knows I’m going to be 10 minutes late for every appointment I make, and will always show up to his salon panicked and apologetic. He doesn’t ask me silly guilt-ridden questions about my grooming habits; he’d rather know what the latest gossip is. I miss the fact that I know where his salon is and it doesn’t require a 15-minute sprint down cobblestone roads. He gives me a glass of wine when I arrive.
After the highlights and the rinse (another girl is in charge of the hair rinsing process), I am introduced to the person in charge of haircutting. I’m starting to feel like a Chipotle burrito or something. But I don’t doubt. If this is what it takes to avoid hair-disaster in this country, okay. She’s an American and she has a voice of a yoga instructor. I ask her suggestions of what to do when my family visits Paris and she says she could spend days in the Louve, just looking at art. I giggle at this, thinking of spending hours on end at a museum, just breathing in the beauty and swallowing the information around me. It is clear. None of these people have children. I don’t even think they know a child. I used to be oblivious, too. But seeing as this is the longest I’ve been out of my house by myself since I had arrived here, the out-of-my-element-feeling-continues-to-rise.
I ponder briefly about the professional career I left in the U.S. but yet how vulnerable I feel now in a strange country without a stroller in tow. I shake myself out of my daze. Her voice is soothing and beautiful, and in the end, she makes my hair look and feel fabulous. I’m pleased with the result and buy a ridiculously expensive bottle of shampoo on my way out.
Two months later, it’s time for another visit. V makes me another appointment and this time, I’m going to take the train. I’d taken the train in The Netherlands by myself when we had visited years ago. I’ve even ridden the train in Paris and Tokyo solo when I worked at AA. Now that we live here, sometimes I feel like a version of myself that's been Xeroxed too many times. You can see the outline and know it used to be sharp and clear, but now, well, it’s just a little grey and there’s some dust in the picture.
V writes down the times for the train and the platform. I walk briskly over to the station and as I approach the top step of platform 5a, the 10:28 train pulls away. That’s okay. Geez, it looks as if it’s only 10:26, according to the clocks, I wonder if they’re running a little early. V had written the next train, just in case, which would still get me to Haarlem with time to spare. I needed to catch the 10:42 train. A train pulled up at 10:38. Oh good, this must be it.
I jump on, proud of myself for being proactive and I sit. I brought a book, but I’m too anxious to read it so I just look out the window. I pass through fields of farmland but the peaceful countryside does little to calm my nerves. I have only ridden the train a handful of times since we’ve been here, and unlike most subways, there are no announcements or maps above the doors for you to track your progress. I start to panic when I see the Kyocera building. This doesn’t look right. Finally, finally, a voice comes on and says – Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in both Dutch and English. My heart drops. My mind is thinking and saying things it shouldn’t. I took the wrong train. I’m at the freakin’ airport! Oh no. This is bad, bad, bad, bad.
I exit the doors and am met with crowds upon crowds of people. I rush up the stairs and am met with more crowds of people. I’ve been doing yoga for a week straight but my chi is no longer centered, rather, it has exploded into a billion pieces and has been scattered all over the universe. It’s 11:02 and my appointment is at 11:20. I am SO upset. “Get Celeste a cell phone” had been on our list of Things To Do for months. I had one in the states, but I needed a new phone and plan here. There are a million reasons why we just hadn’t gotten one yet, but at that moment they all seemed pretty weak. My husband had written the salon number on my piece of paper, but it was hardly helpful without a phone.
I see myself from above, a tiny wandering speck of confusion in this large, industrial type airport. I am trying to find a ticket desk, an information booth, a payphone, anything. There are so many people and nothing is clearly labeled, it takes me forever to find a smidgen of help. I finally find and race over to the train map and although it’s completely confusing, I see a small red and white striped line between AMS and Haarlem, complete with a tiny man with a construction hat on. Fabulous. The direct route, which looks like it’s the distance of a centimeter, is under construction. I’m panicking because I know the salon is going to call my husband’s cell phone. No one is going to know where I am and to top it all off, these Toni and Guy girls are never going to want to see me again and I’m going to have horrible hair for the next two years.
I’m about to cry, but the tears just won’t come. The Me Party I’d been looking forward to for weeks – the Me Party where my husband gave me some money, kissed me goodbye and told me to have a good time - the Me Party where I have the day to myself, got a fabulous haircut and strolled around the women’s clothing stores at my own leisure, was gone. All the attendees for the Me Party had gotten lost. I race around and find an information booth. With my biggest sorority girl smile and confidence, I walk up and ask, “Could you please tell me how to get to Haarlem?” (I’m sure I even added a head nod in there.) The printer is having trouble printing my directions. She’s humming and tapping on the machine.
The people behind me start to get impatient, “Excuse me, may I ask you a question while you’re waiting for that to print?” they ask anxiously. Her smile flips upside down. “NO!” She shouts. “NO you may not! You may not ask me a question, I am waiting on HER.” It was nice. Thank you, fake flag-girl smile, or rather. . . maybe she just likes doing that to people because she can. Dutch authorities are confusing to me.
I get my directions. I have to connect to get to Haarlem. I’m not scheduled to arrive there until 11:42, and then, it’s probably a 10 minute walk from the station to the salon. I race around and discover the long-abandoned pay phone booths. I frantically start shoving Euro coins into the machine and dial the Toni and Guy number. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but a Dutch recording is playing. Apparently this lady is very pleasantly explaining to me that the stupid phone is just going to eat every coin I feed it while refusing to connect my call. Cha-Ching!
The phone eats 3 or 4 Euros before I decide it is pointless. I feel so defeated, alone, and confused. I’m about to give up. I want to go home and be doomed to highlights gone wrong for the next two years, but I don’t even know what train to take to give up and go home. I’m not going to stand in the information line again. I decide to take the train to Haarlem and try to save face. I’ll walk to the Toni and Guy and apologise. I have the scene in my head: “I’m sorry, I know there’s nothing you can do for me today, but I apologise for wasting your time, it was not my intention.” And then I just walk out. I don’t know if there’s a penalty fee for canceling on an appointment. I hope not. But yes. That’s what I’m going to do.
I arrive at Toni and Guy 40 minutes after my original appointment. The salon is almost empty, unlike my previous visit. I deliver the script and to my surprise, they take pity. Well, at least the American does. They say they can fit me in and they call my husband (whom they had called previously) and told him I was okay. I endure the typical small talk questions such as “So, how are you adjusting to the country?” as if it wasn’t obvious that I’m struggling, and more tedious personal hygiene habits questions. The Dutch highlights lady seemed pleased with my response to the “How do you blow dry your hair?” and she had already given me the appropriate response last time to “How often do you wash your hair?”
I arrived safely and without drama back to Leiden and later that evening, we biked the family over to the shopping district to comparison shop the cell phone options. 6:30 p.m. was hardly the ideal time, but Thursdays are the only evening the shops are open past 5, Saturdays they are a zoo, and Sunday they are closed. As I fed my children their dinner in the stroller, my husband negotiated with the salesmen and we left with a cell phone and plan. The rain started to pour as we attached the stroller to my bike. My perfectly and expensively styled hair-do didn’t even last 3 hours. As I pedaled home, squinting through the raindrops, I decided that perhaps, it was time to go back to my natural hair color. I’m looking forward to my visit to Oscar in Dallas during the holidays. I think he can help me. So if you see photos of me in 2013, don’t be surprised at the brunette looking back at you. I’m not sure if blondes have more fun in The Netherlands, anyway.
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