Bad Hair Day (and a free gift)

Today is my designated shopping day so I get a break from the patients at the military base to catch up on some daily admin and Christmas shopping.

First stop is the traffic department and what a depressing experience. I stand in the wrong queue until a surly youth points me in the direction of the right one. There are twelve of us in the queue, all males, and none of us is talking to each other or looking happy. One man, it turns out, is quite content but the men around me are not. The content man has gleaming white running shoes, a white golf shirt and powerful calves shown off to good effect by his khaki shorts. He looks healthy and happy to be getting out of the traffic department.

Soon there are about five people behind me, one of whom stands so close to me that his shoe bumps the back of mine. He lets out a depressed-sounding sigh and his breath ruffles the back of my hair. I feel quite irritated by this and I wonder what it would be like to turn around and punch him in the stomach. Alternatively I could just ask him to back off a little but instead I stand my ground and resolutely try and ignore him. I think about not making a scene and how we’re all a bit frustrated about standing around in the heat and how maybe he doesn’t realise that he’s standing too close. When I eventually get to the front of the queue (miracle, the front!) I see that he looks a bit on edge. I also notice a turban and try to avoid eye-contact altogether. I definitely do not want to be picking a fight with a skinny, on-edge, turban-wearing man in Cape Town (or anywhere else).

When it is my turn at the teller, we quickly fall into a pattern of her looking disinterested and bored and my feeling frustrated in return. When she hands me my licence, I wait after thanking her for any sign of recognition and, detecting a faint nod of the head, make my exit.

Next stop is the hairdresser. Lately I’ve been erring on the cheap end of the hairdressing spectrum and the quality of the service tends to match the decor. Today my semi-regular hair-stylist is away so I have a grumpy-looking anonymous person instead. She asks for my name, directs me to a basin and turns back to whatever she was doing before. I quickly get the impression that she has better things to do than to make any kind of conversation, which naturally makes me wonder about the wisdom of coming back here in the future. At one point I am mentally writing a letter of complaint to the salon telling them why I will not be returning. But then I think better of it. Maybe the woman washing my hair doesn’t like to be told that the water is too hot. Perhaps the way I looked at the hair-stylist when I was waiting for her to leave the counter where she was engrossed by a travelling toy-dog salesperson irritated her.

After my trim, I ask if I can have a rinse, which she says is fine. Hair-washer at this point is having a sulk and so the hair-stylist has to do the job herself, which appears to irritate her a little more. Somewhat surprisingly in the light of her apparent indifference, she decides to massage my head while she is rinsing my hair. Whilst not exactly unpleasant, this is rather odd. Perhaps it would be nice if she asked me first but she doesn’t and so it isn’t. But I thank her and I pay and she asks for my surname so she can enter the transaction on the computer. I am tempted to tell her not to bother but am worried that this might be churlish and so I just give my name and leave. I still wonder what was going on with the head massage though. Maybe it’s part of the routine.

Thinking about poor service levels in Cape Town generally, I wonder about self-fulfilling prophecies. How we often get what we expect. Perhaps my whole attitude was wrong the moment I stood in the queue at the traffic department. Or maybe I’m just having a bad hair day. There’s definitely something irritable in the air. It may be the the combination of the heat and a dry South-Easter wind. That and Christmas, which is also not the best time of year around here. Or maybe it’s that I don’t generally have great memories of Christmas.


On a positive note, I’m enjoying a few books including a Dorothy Sayers (Gaudy Night), the Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders and I’m about to start The Orchard by Drusilla Modjeska. I’m also making a couple of Mix CDs. If anyone would like to try one of Pete’s Couchtrip Mix CDs, then leave your comment and I’ll post it off to wherever you live. First person wins. Maybe that will restore a bit of Christmas cheer. Next time I’ll post something on a reading wrap-up for the year. Happy reading.


17 Responses to Bad Hair Day (and a free gift)

  1. Emily says:

    OK, now that I secured my place in line (the benefit of having a tiny human alarm clock), let me comment that I, too, sometimes wonder about making random physical contact with the people in line.

  2. Pete says:

    Well done Emily! Am always impressed at how you combine looking after the tiny human alarm clock with blogging. Will contact you via email to send you your CD (when I’ve finished making it).

  3. Aw, I want one too! Well done Emily …

    One of my strategies for people who stand too close in queues (it happens in Germany rather a lot) is to stand sideways and put my hands on my hips. Anyway who gets too close gets a prod.

  4. litlove says:

    Oh Charlotte, way to go, girl! What a great technique and one I am instantly taking on board. It’s funny (but undeniably true) that little irritations like having someone invade your personal space or fail to give you any service when they are accomplishing a service for you can really undermine your day. Certainly happens to me. Bask in the glow of love from the blogworld, Pete. I love the way that it’s very difficult for people to invade your space virtually. Instead, others tend to enhance it.

  5. Pete says:

    Charlotte – I’m flattered that you would want my humble Mix CD. Actually I think it’ll be fun – some psychology-related songs and some South African ones too. If you still want I can send to you too. These are the early versions though so don’t expect a meisterwerk. Thanks for the excellent tip as well.

    Litlove – Yes, very true about the enhancement of virtual space. I certainly feel better now for having my virtual friends give me some good advice and just empathise that it sucks when you have poor service and inconsiderate interactions. Thanks for the understanding.

  6. Oooh, yes please! We can consider it a 40th birthday present (in 10 days) and when you eventually turn 40 in about 12 years, I’ll return the favour.

  7. Beth says:

    We used to live in the Caribbean . . . and the “service” tended to be slow, surly and generally unconcerned. It was interesting to see how one immediately became a bit prickly in return. However, I do think, in general, if you put out a generous, positive manner you will also get that returned in kind. I have a friend who has a great gift for making people laugh and setting them at ease, and I always marvel at the way people respond to her.

    I wonder how humming would work for you. Just hum, ever so slightly, when you are standing in a line. Perhaps people will think you are a nutter and keep clear!

  8. Bee says:

    Above message was meant to be from “Bee!” Not that I care if you know my real name, but just so you know who I am. Thanks for visiting me in England today. I’ll be looking out for your reading list for the year.

    BTW, I tackled Coetzee for the first time this year. He had been on my LIST for a long time. Such a powerful, disturbing writer. What do you think of him?

  9. doctordi says:

    I can’t abide space invaders, Pete – the breath on the back of the neck is the absolute LIMIT!!!!!!!! How did you remain calm?? And I wait for acknowledgement too… I’m into staring them down after my ‘Thank you’ until I get at least a lip curl in response.

  10. musingsfromthesofa says:

    I tend to wait a minute for the polite response, and when it doesn’t come I say cheerily ‘You’re welcome!’ and walk away; I employ the same technique with people who believe it is my role in life to open doors for them.
    I don’t mind queues, though, because I take a book and am therefore oblivious. Americans don’t queue really, and British people don’t crowd you.
    Gaudy Night is one of my favourites! It seemed to have a palpable air of malice the first time I read it.

  11. adevotedreader says:

    Sorry to hear you’ve had one od those das Pete. Gaudy Night and The Orchid are some of my favourite books, so I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

  12. adevotedreader says:

    Opps, I meant days.

  13. Pete says:

    Charlotte – you’re on! I’ve just been choosing some nice African songs for you. The psycho ones will have to wait – just didn’t fit in.

    Beth / Bee – Thanks for the visit and that’s a great tip re humming. Will have to work on my humming repertoire while standing reading a book with the other hand on my hip 😉 I’ll be super-calm. As for Coetzee, I have very mixed feelings. As you say, powerful and disturbing. I loved the autobiographies (even if he does refer to himself in the third person) but I get very frustrated with his apparent aloofness.

    Di – Mentally blogging seemed to do the trick. But otherwise I just scowl and look unfriendly. Next time I’m going to try Charlotte’s sidewise trick.

    Musings – Thanks for the book tip as well. I think if you’re engrossed in a book then a hour’s queueing can pass pretty quickly. In the absence of a book I try to mentally describe the people around me.

    Sarah (devoted reader) – Glad you liked Gaudy Night too. Dorothy Sayers’s language is so funny (partly because it’s outdated) but she pulls you along with her enthusiasm and plot-turns. I also loved getting an insider’s perspective on 1920s / 30s Oxford.

  14. natalian says:

    I have so often stood in queue’s and wished I was the person walking out! As for the “head massage” the experiance has never left me feeling pleasure, which I think they are hoping to achieve. One dear lass was scrubbing my scalp so hard I had to inform her that I could not endure the torture any longer and could we fast forward to the rinse! To this day I approach the wash bowl with dread. I remember the hot Decembers of Cape Town well and it matches the irritation levels that a humid February has on a Durbanite!

  15. Clare says:

    Oh, other people’s breath on my neck, I hate it! Sometimes, in cities, this is absolutely inescapable, though. A few years ago in Seoul, I found myself crowded right up against a young man in a packed , subway carriage. He was a little shorter than me, and as I looked down at his closely-cropped hairline, I felt a sudden tenderness for him, and I wanted him to feel my breath on his skin… but I held back!

    Now about that CD – I’m in the midst of making a New in New York mix – want to trade?

  16. Pete says:

    Natalian – I’m glad to hear that it’s not just me that has a fear of the hair salon wash basin! As for Feb, maybe you can organise a Germany visit to tide you over the worst of the humidity.

    Clare – Definitely! Would love a New in New York mix. Thanks, will email you.

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