Hair salons are a dime a dozen in my neighborhood. I mean, in a 2 block radius from my apartment, there are 6 of them. In any other context, this would be a perfect example of market saturation. How can all these businesses stay open or be possibly making money? Where are the clients coming from?
You don't have to be a sharp observer to notice that hair is a big thing in Lebanon. I personally had never seen hairdos like the ones I have seen in Beirut. Big curls, hair extensions, highlights, low lights, wigs... you see it all. And the sophistication, intricacy and complexity of some Lebanese hairdos make the most elaborate styles from other parts of the world look like mere poney tails.
But I didn't understand the extent of the perfect hair culture until one morning at the office. It was about 9 am, and I was rushing through the door when I noticed that my Lebanese colleague was looking particularly polished that day.When I commented on her new look, she just brushed it off by saying "Oh, I just went to the salon this morning".
"What time did you go?" I asked, intrigued. She proceeded to explain that she whatsapps her stylist whenever and he will come to the salon next to her house, rain or shine, and as early as needed.
I thought this was a bit extreme... In my world, you need an on demand stylist if you are in the show business or the President. But after doing a little survey among my Lebanese friends, I corroborated to my surprise that going to the hair salon before work is not only a pretty common practice but also considered completely normal. Apparently, for little more than 10 dollars, you can get a hairdo whenever you want and spend the rest of your day having a fabulous hair day.
Once, I arrived to a meeting and a female colleague asked me with a tone of excitement "Who did your hair?"
I looked at her a little confused. She was certainly not implying that my Mum still does my hair or something like that and she was looking at me with a big smile (which in my mind meant she was not being mean).
I hesitantly replied "Hum... me." (I had a braid).
"Whaaat?"she said impressed. " Where did you learn to do that?"
I kept staring at her not knowing what to say. She then explained to me that in Lebanon, there are places where you can go get your hair done by really famous people, and then you can tell others that "so and so" did your hair. Like a brand name for your hair. Lebanese sophistication at its prime.
On another note, I have found in Lebanon that for the most part, hair salons are run and operated by men. In Mexico, there are some men in hair salons, but I would say 9 times out of 10 hair salons are run by women. And to make it more interesting, here in Lebanon, I have gotten my hair done by men who wouldn't fit the stereotype in my mind of what a "stylist" looks like (i.e. purple highlights, tight leather pants, open shirts with waxed chests, plucked eye brows, etc.). As a matter of fact, the last person who did my hair was a 30 year old man with a 3 day unshaved beard, button down shirt, jeans and Converse, who left to watch the soccer match in a little TV as soon as he was done with my hair.
There is no doubt that hair salons play a key role in Lebanon's day to day life, and I got to experience that firsthand. I was walking around Byblos (North of Beirut), with some time in my hands and I decided to go to a little salon, and ask for a "brushing" (a blow dry). Instantly, I was immersed in the neighborhood's life. In the few Arabic words I picked, I learned about who was getting married that evening, got offered some food and coffee, received expert advice on a wide variety of products, and got asked about every single detail of my life (including the reasons why I don't have blond highlights- which is a very bad thing here). The people in the salon seemed all like they knew each other very well, like family.
And I understood that the hair salon is much more than just a place where you get a hair done. It is a place where you socialize, get beautified and connected, get special attention, and catch up on the latest and greatest neighborhood gossip. When things are tense and stressful, there is no better place than the hair salon.
No wonder why there are so many of them.