The Perils (and Perks) of Getting a Haircut in a Foreign Land

The Perils:

They might forget to cut one side

Maybe the guy had been having a few beers, or hairdressing wasn’t really his passion in life, but still, getting half a haircut for the price of 1 isn’t such a good deal. This was in Singapore, and arriving home for the customary post-haircut mirror check was a horrific experience. In his defence, the haircut did cost about $3, so I couldn’t complain too much, and it didn’t look as bad as the above photo, from the TV show Nathan Barley.

You never know what you’re going to get

Forest Gump seemed to think this was a good thing, and maybe in life it is, but the same rule doesn’t apply for haircuts. English in Taiwan was limited at the best of times, so trying to explain how I wanted them to cut my hair was always an uphill battle. I started taking photos in to show them, but they still couldn’t get it right.

“Not too short” sometimes translates to “really short”

When speaking to people with limited English it is always important to emphasise the important words. People are likely to miss at least half of any given sentence, and I obviously wasn’t saying the NOT loud enough, because I almost always ended up with it being too short (until I found a good hairdresser in Singapore).

Hairdressers sometimes run for the hills as soon as you enter

Living in a small city in a faraway land means most hairdressers in town won’t have cut the hair of a foreigner before. The reactions are sometimes quite funny; I actually saw some people hide so they didn’t end up being the chosen one.

The perks:

You’ll get a lot of compliments

If you have hair that goes against the local tradition (my hair is wavy/curly while most Chinese people have straight hair) people will be extremely curious and complimentary about it. We all love to marvel at something new and weird, so I guess it’s a natural reaction. I also get a lot of compliments on my hair colour, something I don’t think I ever got (except for that time I dyed it red in high school) in New Zealand.

You have an excuse if it ends up looking shit

Nobody likes getting a bad haircut, but it’s a lot easier to explain it away when the person cutting it spoke no English. People will be much more understanding if they know that you didn’t actually choose that style, and they might even feel sorry for you.

If you are looking for a haircut and prostitute at the same time, you might be in luck

Apparently in Vietnam some salons double as brothels, so if you’re in the market for sex and a haircut, and you don’t want any travel time between the 2, then book your ticket to Vietnam now. I got 1 haircut in Vietnam, and looking back at it, there was something pretty shady about the place. The women were all wearing extremely revealing clothes, but I guess my hair was so messy and in need of a cut, and I’m about 30 years younger than their target market, that they rightly assumed I was just there for the hair.

In conclusion

Getting a haircut in a foreign land can be a dangerous game, especially if it happens to be in Asia. You could always just not cut it, but a more daring option would be to print out The Nicholas Cage Matrix below (from the awesome film blog, and let your hairdresser choose a style, you’re bound to come out with something interesting.


Have you ever had a haircut abroad? Let me know how it went!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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  1. April 3, 2014 at 6:27 pm — Reply

    A great way of getting a bit of the local culture, but you might have to live with the consequences!

    • April 3, 2014 at 11:50 pm — Reply

      Haha yeah, you’re right though, it does give you a feel for the everyday lives of the people that live there.

  2. April 3, 2014 at 10:06 pm — Reply

    What a funny post haha! I wrote a while ago about my top experiences about having haircuts around the world, the best one? The dark shady alley at Vietnam.

    • April 3, 2014 at 11:52 pm — Reply

      I just checked out your post, looks like a great place to get a haircut!

  3. April 4, 2014 at 5:26 am — Reply

    The perils you described above are exactly why while living in Spain, I waited out six months of not getting my hair done (which for me is very difficult) until I knew I would be visiting the US where my trusty hairstylist lives. My hair just grows way too slowly for me to take the risk of someone messing it up. Been there done that and it wasn’t pretty haha

    • April 4, 2014 at 11:52 am — Reply

      Haha, my hair is the opposite, grows really fast! I decided not to cut it for quite a while but some of my students started calling me the Chinese word for sheep.

  4. April 4, 2014 at 2:21 pm — Reply

    I’ve had what I consider ‘lawnmower’ cuts on more than one occasion. On the other hand, I’ve also had some of my better ones as well. You just never know what you’re going to get!

    • April 4, 2014 at 4:34 pm — Reply

      Lawnmower cuts sound traumatic.I guess, as with anything in life, it all balances out in the end!

  5. April 5, 2014 at 1:12 am — Reply

    Ah the joys of just having a military buzz cut whenever mine gets too long! So simple! Haha! I have to say though my best haircut was in Thailand without a doubt, it was in no way a brothel (at least I don’t think so! Haha!) But I got a haircut and a surprise head massage after it! Bliss! It was really cheap too!

    • April 5, 2014 at 11:36 pm — Reply

      Haha, gotta love those head massages!!

  6. April 7, 2014 at 6:16 am — Reply

    My last haircut was in a foreign land (Finland). I don’t have a great deal of hair left so it’s never much of a problem but the short clippers in Finland are clearly a little shorter than I’m used to back at home. I came out almost bald! 🙂

    • April 7, 2014 at 8:52 pm — Reply

      Haha, hopefully it was in the winter, then you could have just constantly worn a hat until it grew. Too hot for that in Singapore!

  7. April 7, 2014 at 8:34 pm — Reply

    I became kind of addicted to haircuts when I was in Thailand. They were so cheap that I just kept going and changing the style a little here, then a little there, until I left with a drastically shorter haircut by the end of my trip. They give the most amazing head massages though, I just couldn’t stop!

    • April 7, 2014 at 8:57 pm — Reply

      Yeah, those head massages are great! I’ve thought about going to a place that does massages and telling them not to worry about all those weird techniques, just do the head!

  8. April 7, 2014 at 10:03 pm — Reply

    this is so funny Jon!! you will have to give me the name of the good hairdresser in singapore 🙂

  9. April 23, 2014 at 4:03 pm — Reply

    Awesome post! I’ve had so many foreign haircuts over the years, and I don’t think any have turned out the way I’d asked. But at $1-2, I’m not complaining. The best was the barber in northern Colombia who cut my hair like a prepubescent Latino boy haha. Great post!

    • April 23, 2014 at 10:52 pm — Reply

      Cheers Jules, I reckon we have to see photos of that haircut!!

  10. Shannon
    April 29, 2014 at 1:38 am — Reply

    I once had a hairdresser in India give up 3/4s of the way through my haircut! He told me my hair was way too thick and fine, and that he just couldn’t handle it.

    The result was….interesting

    • April 29, 2014 at 2:21 am — Reply

      Haha, you’ve gotta wonder why it took him so long to realise that. At least he gave it a go though I guess!

  11. May 1, 2014 at 2:41 am — Reply

    Haircuts in Malaysia were always so interesting…and curly hair was apparently never in “style” when I lived there because not one hairdresser would let me leave the salon with curly hair, nope, it had to be flat ironed whether I wanted it or not. And every time they recommended that I let them “fix” my curly hair with a permanent straightening treatment. And I had to strongly convince them that wasn’t what I wanted! They also always took at least an hour, usually more, while my very easy haircut takes 15 minutes or less in the USA.

    • May 1, 2014 at 7:30 am — Reply

      Haha, sounds like you’ve had more problems with haircuts than I have!

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