The one phrase I have learned in Russian is “I don’t understand these Americans.” I heard this uttered many times today. I have encountered this phenomenon in Wales as well, even though the common tongue was English. Words were coming out of our mouths from the same vocabulary, but understanding was as elusive as cold fusion. We use so much idiomatic speech and specialized vocabulary daily that sometimes attempts at communication, even in the same language, can be utterly confusing.
Since I’m an expat and must have my hair cut from time to time, I find that I often need to explain myself without the use of the lingua franca, in today’s case, Russian (I’m fine in French, btw). Although I am Slavic-challenged, I was able to get across what I wanted for my scalp, red and short. No problems, right?
First problem, REALLY short hair. In Kyrgyz and Russian culture, hair is an part of a well-scripted couture. This week, I showed my classes several photographs from the early twentieth century. All of my students insisted that any child with long hair was a girl and any with short was a boy. These gender markers are poured in rebar reinforced concrete. Chip away at your own risk. I’m American and generally show up at my hair appointments in shorts and a tank top (or sweatpants and jumper in winter). So, there I sit, dressed as a man would dress, reading a book intently (and making notes), looking about as Slavically unfeminine as I could, asking for extremely short hair. Eyebrows raised and clucking ensued. OK, earbuds in, Dave Matthews on, see what happens.
There are many shades of red in the salon palette. I’m not too picky (having had my hair dyed in Wales, England, Scotland, France, Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria, the UAE, Qatar, Thailand, Belize, and now Kyrgyzstan, in addition to most States and the District of Columbia). One day at the OAH meeting, my husband pointed out that many of the women had exactly the same shade of hair. Dubbed “historian red,” I vowed, “never again.”
Having capitulated to my insistence on short pixie hair (“elf,” the Russian word for pixie didn’t quite get the idea across), the stylist put her foot down. I was to have historian red.
I asked if anyone spoke English, French, German, or Turkish. Silence. I had successfully explained that I understood that she advised me against my selection, and yes, I understood the reasons for her objections, but please, PAJHOLSTA [пажолста], just give it a try, as an experiment? Humor me? It is my head after all. Just make it copper instead of deep red.
So we understood what I wanted, and we understood what she wanted, but asking for short, coppery red hair? Does.Not.Compute. I prevailed, and my hair is satisfactory, at least for the next six weeks. Hey, it cost 800 soms (about $18 US), and it’s a pretty good hair cut.
NOT historian red.
I like it, but so does everyone else, especially historians.