All About the Hair
Yesterday I went to a Korean owned black hair care store downtown during my lunch hour. I don’t go in there often; the ones I prefer to patronize are a few miles away. The one downtown is rather harried. Everything seems to be piled up which creates neat, narrow aisles but is not conducive for browsing which I never want to do there anyway.
Other black women who come in might have the same feeling. Maybe they are transferring buses or need to pick up hair to get to stylist appointment or maybe they just have errands to run on their lunch break but whichever way it is, they are always rushed and short on patience. I can sympathize with them, it’s hard to feel loving and light if your hair ain’t right. You don’t feel at your best, so the women might not always act their best.
The couple that works there seems overworked and in a hurry as well. I often think one reason for the layout is not just because the space is small but also to make sure nothing gets boosted. From their raised position behind the cash register they can see everything. the products that are most likely to get stolen (like 50 dollar wefts of hair) they keep behind them on the wall. Some choice hair is also at the other end of the store but since the exit is next to the register they can stop you before you are out the double doors.
All I want is a blow dryer attachment and peppermint shampoo. I find the shampoo right away but I don’t see the nozzle. I ask the guy where it is and he points over she maze of shelves to a wall. I follow his finger in that direction and then turn back to give him a look that says, “I don’t even feel like walking over there to not find what I’m looking for”. He’s done it to me before, told me something was along the wall and I search for 10 minutes until his female counterpart comes to help me which was nowhere near where dude said it would be. I don’t think he knows where anything is anyway.
He can’t leave the register, though, because two other women are standing beside the counter, waiting for the lady to come back to the front. She is helping a different set of women select hair. Realizing that if I want to get lunch as well as my hair products I have to try to search myself. Luckily the woman is swinging my way with her two customers and he shouts out to her what I need. She pulls one from out of nowhere and asks me if it’s what I need.
It has a round base and teeth. “Yeah, I’ll take it.”
So now it’s back to the guy. He never smiles although his demeanor is passably polite. He rings me up and says to have a good day. I say thank you and leave, happy to be out in the wide world.
As I walk to get my lunch I wonder why the interactions between Korean Americans and African Americans aren’t better. Of the ten hair stores that I will go to they are all Korean owned and located in black neighborhoods. One or two might have an African American worker but most of the people who work there are Asian and all of the customers are black. They don’t live in the neighborhoods where their businesses are located, either, and I have often wondered where they lived. Did they make that much money from selling black women hair that they could live way out in the suburbs?
For lunch I go to a local Spanish restaurant. The owner is always friendly, even when we pass each other on the street. He doesn’t know my name, but he always remember my standing order. He has told me that I come in too much to not pick up some Spanish and he tries to engage me with Buenos Dias, senorita. I know a few words but always get self conscious speaking them to him since he is a native speaker. But others come in and speak rudimentary Spanish with him with no problem.
I wonder what would happen if people tried speaking Korean in the black hair shops. The workers there all speak English, but what if there was a mutual cultural exchange along with money and products.
I could say basic phrases like:Annyeonghaseyo? How are you? ahn-nyawng-hah-seyo Igeo eolmayeyo? How much is this? eerger erlmah-yeyo? Jeogeo (something over there) That jerger Geugeo (something close to the listener) That Gohger Igeo This eerger Gamsahamnida Thank you gahmsah-hahm-needah
I wonder that would have happened if I had said Gahmsahnida to the guy as I was taking my bag. Would that have made him less wary of the next black customer to come into his store? Or would he have thought that I was being a smart ass? I couldn’t recall the word as I stood in front of him; just like in the Spanish restaurant I become self conscious around a native speaker.
Or maybe it’s just best to for things to stay as they are, with both sides warily observing each other and the language of money speaking for both of us. Those things come in loud and clear.