Hair Salons in a Second Language

Living in Lima is not like traveling in Europe. When I traveled in Europe, it was a pretty safe bet that everybody spoke at least a little English. I felt like a giant American toddler. I bopped around, knocked things over, required help at every turn, and sure enough, some kind English speaker would materialize as soon as I needed it. “Oh, you don’t understand the sign? Ok, it just means don’t walk on the grass right here. You’re back on the sidewalk! Good job!” *head pat* It was awesome.

Lima is also awesome, but these are totally city people, and way fewer of the people working in businesses speak English. The lady at Metro will be polite, but she’s so not into holding my hand while patiently explaining in a second language what the difference is in “boleta” and “factora” (fun fact: I still don’t really get it, I just say “boleta”). And of course, I can’t and don’t blame her one bit. It’s just that, when it comes to interacting with business people who are busy, I’m a little more skittish in Lima.

My first experience trying to get a haircut was not comforting. It went like this (in Spanish):

Me: “Hi! I need a hair cut. Can I make an appointment?”
Girl: “Indecipherable-super-fast-jibberish.”
Me: “Oh. Uh. Yes?”
Girl: …
Me: “I’ll just come back later…”


Turns out there are so many hair salons in Lima, they don’t take appointments. Appointments aren’t even a thing. You just walk in, are like, “I’m here, guys”, and they either say, “Cool, what do you want” or “Yeah, come back in an hour.”

The first year we lived in Peru, I was eventually able to communicate what I needed to the super stylish desk girl. Going there was scary, and I got only about 60% of what was said (meaning I usually got only about 60% of what I wanted), but it was nearby and at least I came out looking less scruffy. I was probably exuding anxiety, so the girls working with me were nervous too. Everything pretty much went down in awkward silence. The thing is, I grew up getting my hair cut in the basements of family friends and at a local hair salon (shout out to E-Jays), where the lady working on my hair can reminisce with me all the way back to freaking middle school. Overall, the experience of getting my hair done that year in Lima was just… lacking.

So this year, big 2016 in Lima, I decided to go for a change.

And by “I decided”, I mean I invented excuses for three days until Ivo shoveled my butt into the car and then kicked me out on the doorstep of the salon. (Thank you, baby.)


LOFT is a super chic place. There was a dude there to open the door for me. They had an adorable French bull dog snoozing in the white and chrome entry way. The girl at reception had red hair and a dimple piercing.

Shit. I had on a gel fitbit, an old white Target t-shirt, and gym shoes. But you know what? I think somewhere between the apartment and the door of the salon I just hit my “Fuck it” point. I looked the redhead right in the eyes and went, in Spanish, “I need a hair cut and color. I’m sorry my Spanish isn’t perfect, but I’ve got pictures.”

I totally saw fear flutter across her eyes, but I didn’t flinch, and she seemed to chill out. “I understand. Let me get you a stylist to talk to.”



I made it to a chair and got spritzed. Grabbed a half accidental selfie trying to get a photo of the salon inside, and it’s pretty obvious that I was still a little freaked out.

But then, as it turns out, my stylist was chill as hell. She loved languages. She had grandparents who spoke Quechua and children who spoke Japanese. She hated that she couldn’t pronounce the “th” sound in English (she and several other of the salon ladies sang the refrain from “Thriller” several times to prove it). I am honestly staggered to report that she spoke about ten words of English but we still talked the ENTIRE time. That’s right: For about 2 hours, I swapped stories about intercultural bumbles and family and food and language in nothing but Spanish.

Apparently happy hair cuts are the best hair cuts, because I left looking FABULOUS.


                                                            The cut!


                                                                                     That color!

There’s been some debate about tipping in Peru. My husband swears you don’t have to tip in salons, but he’s also bald. Some girls say yes, others say no. After the experience though, I was totally ready to hand this lady another 30 soles, but sad news: you can’t tip using your credit card. Tips in cash only. Ah, you definitely need to carry cash in Lima.

In about a week, I’ll probably be back to get my nails done. You can bet I’ll have soles on hand! I am one grateful gringa.


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