Expat, Expat Life, Expat Women, Istanbul, Nigeria, The Netherlands

Hair Raising and Hair Razing Expat Experiences Abroad

Hair raising experience abroad bad haircut for expat so wearing a paper bag over my head

Getting a hair cut should be a fairly simple procedure and yet I have found it to be one of the lesser known, but very real challenges of expat life.  Plenty of expat blogs cover all the obvious, big ticket hurdles to being a successful and happy expat: emotional resilience, repatriation, culture shock, depression, leaving well etc.  But there are plenty of lesser known hurdles we face as we ricochet around the globe and getting a decent haircut is firmly on that list.

Whether I’ve asked  for ‘a trim’ or ‘the same but shorter’ or shown a picture from a magazine or a photograph of my own hair I seem to have had more than my fair share of awful expat haircuts than I care to mention.  Here are a few of my lowlights….

Hair raising experience abroad – The Wings

The Netherlands circa 1989

I asked in perfect Dutch for a trim.  I came out feeling like a shorn sheep, my neat bob had been replaced with an unfortunate haircut almost identical to the one that had been recently been inflicted on my mother – yes, our terrible haircuts matched.  It was quite a severe eighties do with weird little wings of hair that came to half way down our ears. Exactly half way down our ears.  Why would a hairdresser inflict such a ‘do’ on an innocent child? Why?

Hair raising experience abroad – The Mullet

Nigeria circa 1994

I asked for a trim so that my hair would look nice at a New Years Eve party.  The long straight hair I went in with was subsequently transformed into a freaking mullet.  I think it’s the only time I’ve ever cried over a haircut.   Later the same day my mum whisked me to a rough and ready barber who lopped the back off and made it look almost like an actual hairstyle rather than a weird rock-band throwback.  Cinderella you shall go to the ball!

Hair raising experience abroad – The Dead Animal

Brussels circa 1998

I ventured to a recommended hair dresser with a fellow Brit student.  They cut her long her beautifully – with actual scissors.  Before I could reiterate that I was definitely going for a trim, not a messy dead animal style, the crazy stylist whipped out a pair of electric clippers and used them to massacre my long hair.  I left looking exactly like I had a dead animal keeping my neck warm.  It wasn’t QUITE as bad as the mullet, but it was a close second and similarly required a corrective cut.

Hair raising experience abroad – Hot Metal

Istanbul 2011-2013

Short hair for girls was the exception rather than the rule in Istanbul.  Long hair was definitely the norm whether worn as cascading locks or neat up-dos.  Despite going to a recommended salon with specific instructions typed up by my husband’s secretary, the stylist ignored said instructions and translated my complete lack of Turkish as licence to use me and my relatively short hair as a hairdressing experiment.

The end result was a very funky asymmetric cut.  Shaved on one side and with a longer flicked out fringe* on the other.  It’s a haircut I would never have thought to ask for but I actually quite liked it.  Feeling surprised, but for once quite relieved that I appeared to have escaped the expat hairdo curse, I looked over at my 4 year old daughter who was bouncing excitedly in her chair and realised to my horror that her hairdresser was using red hot hair straighteners and she was at real risk of losing an eye or an earlobe.  Gaaahhhhhhh.

I have often wondered why I seem to have had so many hair raising and hair razing experiences at the hairdresser.   Do they think I look friendly or simple and will therefore accommodate experiments on my hair?  Do they like to play tricks on foreigners?  Do they give the duff stylists to the people that are unable to complain easily?  

Tell me I’m not alone.  Share your worst hair day.  Please tell us about your most hair raising experience abroad.  Photographic evidence is entirely optional.  

Hair raising experience abroad bad haircuts for expats

…and there you have it, hair raising and hair razing salon experiences are one of the lesser recognised perils of expat life.  Another lesser known challenge we expat gals face is buying underwear, a subject that I touched on in the post Hats for Twins.  What other lesser known challenges of expat life should I write about?  

Hair raising = is astonishing or frightening and by golly I’ve had some nightmarishly astonishing hair-cuts.

Hair razing is invention of my own (I think?). The verb to raze means to tear down or destroy (usually in the context of a building or city). It comes from raser – Old French for ‘to shave closely’. And in Turkey in particular I had a couple of close shaves.

*Americans, you call it bangs, we call it a fringe.

8 thoughts on “Hair Raising and Hair Razing Expat Experiences Abroad”

  1. Countless, but the worst one must have been the one where a Zambian hairdresser burnt my scalp with the coloring products given to me by my old trusted hairdresser from the Netherlands. She thought that everybody would be able to mix them and produce a decent color. As soon as the hairdresser in Zambia started to apply it to my hair I felt a burning sensation. After mentioning it to her, she said that it would get better. Less than 5 minutes later I felt that I was on fire, and I ran to the sink, demanding to wash it off. Needless to say, the first 2 years after this, my hair was ruined.


    1. Oh my goodness Mira, that’s TERRIBLE. I think you win – 2 years is a long time to live with a hair disaster. Hoping you currently have a more skilled hairdresser and/or colourist. 🙂


      1. I would have gladly let you win this one 😉 But nowadays I am fine, it helps a great deal that there are a lot of ” mzungu ” hairdressers

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great topic! I’ve always said, finding a new hairdresser is the very FIRST order of business for any expat, and the fact that you lose your old one is the scariest part about moving abroad. Bar none. I don’t have any horror stories, but can commiserate with you. Would have liked your blog post a little more though if you had included all the pictures:-)


  3. I am laughing because we seem to have followed the same travel route as an expat! Netherlands, Middle East for me, Brussels, then Istanbul… luckily never had a disaster apart from The Netherlands… 1984…. princess Diana look…. with very proofed out hair… not a good look… clearly wasn’t what was asked for!


    1. It’s a small world Lou! I keep coming across travel twins and it’s quite amazing how many times paths cross inadvertently. We were in Friesland in 84. Whereabouts in NL were you? Princess Diana – that’s too funny (sorry) not sure if that would be better or worse than my weird wings over the ears do. 🙂


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