What should a weird person like me talk about with stylists?
September 18, 2010 2:48 PM   Subscribe

How can I stop being weird while getting my hair cut so that I don't have to be so embarrassed by my awkward conversations and not want to ever, ever go back?

I can't think of anything to talk about with stylists when getting my hair cut. They ask me a question, I answer, they're silent, then I become a blushing machine. Usually, I just feel like they're trying to be nice but I sort of feel like asking me what I did this summer is such a boring, fake conversation starter. I know they're just trying to do their job and I don't have anything against them. I'm fully aware that it's me who has the problem.

This has caused me to salon hop quite a bit to avoid having to be around the stylist who had to endure my weirdness. Unfortunately (well, not really), I found a person who just cut my really well and I'd like to go back. But I think I totally weirded her out so I'm sort of nervous to make another appointment in the future.

So, can anyone offer me advice on what to talk about with a stylist? Maybe some questions that would be less fake feeling or could lead to a more interesting conversation? Or is there anyway to let a stylist know you really don't want to talk without making them feel bad?
posted by smirkyfodder to Human Relations (33 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I hate talking to stylists, so after they ask about 3 questions and get terse responses then silence, they just give upo and everyone's happy. I don't think they're put off or feel weird. Bring a magazine - really, you're not the only one who doesn't chat with them.
posted by tristeza at 2:52 PM on September 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

First of all, I really think they're probably not noticing it- you probably think they think you're incredibly weird, and they either don't notice or couldn't care less.

If they start trying to make conversation (and you don't want to talk), maybe something like, "This is really relaxing... I'm just gonna close my eyes, hope you don't mind," would work.
posted by rachaelfaith at 2:53 PM on September 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think some stylist may be perfectly happy that you don't require small talk and prefer being able to work in silence. Maybe you just need to stop assuming that they want to talk but that they're only doing it out of professional obligation. I know when I go to the stylist I usually prefer not to chit-chat.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:53 PM on September 18, 2010

Note: If you're like me, that often causes me to fall asleep, so... I try to avoid that, but I'm super-sensitive and relaxed to human touch.
posted by rachaelfaith at 2:54 PM on September 18, 2010

I'm not a fan of small talk either - I like to grab a pile of magazines or bring a book to read when I'm in the chair.

Also, feel free to say something along the lines of "sorry, I'm just not that chatty today/long day/do you mind if I just zone while you work" - I bet most stylists will be happy to not feel the need to play 20 questions with you.

Finding one you like is really tough, lucky you!
posted by cestmoi15 at 2:55 PM on September 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've known my stylist as a friend from before she went to cosmetology school, and this exact thing happens when she cuts my hair. I imagine it's because there's some skill and thought that goes into a haircut, and at some point they've got to pay attention to the work they're doing. I wouldn't take it at all personally.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:57 PM on September 18, 2010

I use old fashioned men's barber--It guy whose name is Rocky. This type of barber is always named Rocky. And they are always very right of center politically and want to talk politics.
I refuse since he has the sharp things in his hands and I have nothing. I nod from time to time to let him know I hear him. I ignore him. Idle chit chat bes handled by refusing to play the game. Simply do not answer or give one or two word curt answers, preferably I don't know; maybe..I don't care; I never think about such stuff. Sports talk a real problem. All men are supposed to know who did what last evening. When I said I didn't follow sports, I got strange looks. Now I simply say: If I can't play, I am not interested in watching others do it...that way I get admiring looks for being real macho.Best bet: sit down and as soon as you can close your eyes and take heavy breaths as though dozing and not wanting to be disturbed.
posted by Postroad at 3:00 PM on September 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Eh, I think this is kind of normal. Certainly that's how it always goes when I get my hair cut. I notice when I'm in the hairdressers' that some people chat away about their jobs and holidays etc, and others just sit their fairly silently. Stylists see lots of people in any given week and they're used to most things, so don't worry. I try to be chatty for a while, but conversation usually runs out and then we're quiet. It's not a problem at all.
posted by cincinnatus c at 3:00 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Now that you've found someone you like, you have your own conversation starter - tell her how awesome your last haircut was and how excited you are that she can do the next one. (This worked for me on my last one. Usually I just put up with the awkward. But I was seriously excited about how good of a job this woman does!)
posted by ansate at 3:02 PM on September 18, 2010

I don't like the salon small talk either. It's no problem. It's not weird. It's not something that requires an apology or an explanation.

Their job is to cut and style hair, a part of which is keeping you comfortable while that's going on. That comfort could come in the form of idle chit-chat or a peaceful silence. If they insist on blathering on and on when you are clearly not into it, that's a problem with them, not you. It's their fault that they're losing you as a client.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:08 PM on September 18, 2010

If it makes you feel any better, I actually had a stylist stop me from talking. She said it was hard to talk and concentrate on my hair at the same time. So, some might prefer the silence.
posted by amro at 3:13 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm glad I'm not the only awkward weirdo out there. Another factor is that I wear glasses that I take off during the haircut, and I feel really uncomfortable about talking to someone when I can't make out their facial expressions. So after the initial, "How've you been?" stuff I'm pretty quiet. I'm always very happy with my stylist's work and I've been seeing her for a while now - so I think she knows I'm okay with things even though I totally zone out while she's working.

Once, after sitting there listing to a neighboring stylist and client doing the chatty thing while they were working, I spoke up to my own stylist and just said something like, "Oh hey, I hope I'm not coming across as a giant weirdo or anything for not being particularly talky!" And she was basically like, "Oh no, it's totally cool," and I got the impression that it was sometimes nice for her to just focus on her work without doing the social chat. So that's pretty much what we do, and I'm happy. I'll throw out a random comment every now and then, but otherwise we're both pretty quiet. It helps that she's not the kind of person who fishes for ways to keep a conversation going, so the quiet is kind of nice and restful for both of us (I hope!).

If you find someone you like and want to stay with, there's nothing wrong with saying something semi-jokey about not being a talkative person. Chances are they'll probably appreciate it. And the bonus is that staying with someone gives you a chance to become comfortable with them, and after a little while the quiet will seem relaxing rather than awkward.
posted by Salieri at 3:21 PM on September 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

This bothered me for years until I started concentrating on them and my favourite is, how old were you when you knew you wanted to be a hairdresser, because for some it's a vocation, and for others, they fell into it.

And along the way, I tell them (not flattery, I believe it), that I think hairdressers have to be artists and psychologists (well, very much people-people) as well as having the cutting skills.

(But having learned how to do it, I wish I could go back to being silent, because that was more fun.)

Oh, things that do weird them out, people who have poor body odour (in some hairdressing courses, it's explicitly discussed that hairdressers must not stink - see the things you learn).

You can ask them how long they've had their latest style and whether it's difficult to maintain, what they're looking forward to trying next.

Another one is what they've got planned for the weekend, or what they did last weekend?

It's the same old story, ask about the person you're with. They are so totally used to focussing on the client (hell, you're paying, aren't you, for the attention) that turning it around and asking about them can be really novel.
posted by b33j at 3:21 PM on September 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've figured it out! (Because I absolutely hate talking about myself in earshot of a bunch of people who don't even care. No one wins! And they always ask questions that make me feel like a loser because I don't have any vacations planned, jeez!) What I do is answer vaguely, and then turn the question around. The stylists who are just doing their job and would rather not chat anyhow will answer briefly back, and soon they realize (without my being weird or rude) that they can get on with their work without having to converse for my benefit.... and the ones who like to gab will happily talk about themselves - and that's fine with me, too, I'm happy to "interview" a stranger about their kids and so on.
posted by moxiedoll at 3:29 PM on September 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

If you have the option, go somewhere the staff don't speak the same language as you: for years I had my hair cut by this guy from Kosovo, not because he was that good of a barber, but because his English was poor enough that it limited the realm of smalltalk to an agreeable minimum.
posted by misteraitch at 3:33 PM on September 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

They're asking you questions because it's relatively easy to get people to talk about themselves and their opinions. It's just human nature. Turn the tables on them and ask them questions. "How's business?" or "What's been going on around the shop?" are good fallback positions if you can't come up with a sport or celebrity they're interested in talking about.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:43 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could brush up on some current news items/celebrity gossip before you go in. I did that when I was having laser hair removal done on some *ahem* private places, and I couldn't find a middle ground between silence and "so how's YOUR summer been?" But talking about current event X, celebrity Y, and sports team Z took all the awkwardness out of it, even though I generally don't care about most of that kind of stuff.

It's also ok to be quiet and give them a chance to work without having to make small talk, too. I guarantee you that your stylists don't find you nearly as weird and awkward as you're afraid of.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 3:52 PM on September 18, 2010

At some point, smile and close your eyes. It tells them, "I am so so very relaxed," and gives them license to chatter or to concentrate on their work.
posted by pickypicky at 4:03 PM on September 18, 2010

I am incredibly salon-shy. On the other hand, I've found that it's more nervewracking to make the appointment; once I'm in the seat, even if I'm not talking, I'm okay.

Once you find a stylist you want to keep, it helps to book your next haircut while you are still in the salon. You've gotten past that awkward appointment-setting part, your stylist knows you like her, and (as long as you write the appointment in your calendar) three months from now you'll actually remember who it was you liked so much.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:14 PM on September 18, 2010

Don't worry about it. I have a really hard time with small talk. After going to the same stylist for four years or so I'm starting to get a little better, but still mainly I suck. It's especially embarrassing because Mr. Llama goes to her also and he's a putting-people-at-ease master and I always feel horrible in comparison.

It's okay not to talk while getting a haircut. You could throw out a few questions in response if you feel like it, but it's really okay to just sit there.

Mr. Llama once told me he utterly failed to enjoy a massage because he felt like he had to fill the conversational space the whole time. So there's that end of it too.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:28 PM on September 18, 2010

Wow, thanks so much for the answers. Actually, you've made me feel less crazy and weird so maybe that will help calm me down next time around.

I think I'm definitely going to try the whole "do you mind if I zone out, work was crazy" approach first and if that doesn't work, I think I might try turning the questions around.

Whew! I feel better. Thanks again.
posted by smirkyfodder at 4:49 PM on September 18, 2010

Pointless smalltalk annoys me, but when a stylist asks questions about my work, residence, education and reproductive status, it changes from a friendly conversation to an interrogation.

I'm stuck but I want nice hair, so the situation morphs into a "hairdresser-as-captor" stockholm syndrome

My husband and I went to get haircuts on the same day at the same salon. He had his done first, and the stylist asked him the most INANE questions, like, "do you read?" (Not "do you LIKE to read" or "WHAT do you read"... derp) Eventually I figured out she was trying to get him to talk about reading the bible so she could talk about her relationship with the jesus. I wasn't in the mood for THAT conversation, so when he was done i claimed i had a headache and left with my hair and sanity intact.

That could be a good strategy, just say you have a headache and that you'd appreciate the silence.
posted by ChefJoAnna at 4:51 PM on September 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I do what moxiedoll does as well. One, because I feel like when I talk about myself I'm bragging, even if I'm being self depricating or just answer honestly ("yes, I'm fairly happy with my nine year old Honda Civic") or whatever. Feels like I'm boasting about my pimp ride. Two, because I really like people to expound upon topics they know a lot about (which, you know, is what draws a lot of us to MeFi). Shears are expensive! They get them sharpened every month or so from a little old man who does it in their parking lot. One time the stylist cut someone's eyelid. I find these tidbits fascinating.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:29 PM on September 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

LOL, this used to be a major problem for me. There's almost nothing I hate more than haircut chit-chat.

but now I have found the PERFECT SOLUTION:

A Korean or Chinese barbershop where they barely speak english!

It might take a while to find one that you like, but if you're in a city of any decent size, especially one with a Chinatown, then there should be a fair few.
posted by moorooka at 6:22 PM on September 18, 2010

I just shut my eyes for most of it. I also go to a place where it is all Asian hairdressers who don't speak great English, so they don't care. I hate all that crap with magazines and cups of tea and chatting away - I just want my hair cut.
posted by AnnaRat at 7:48 PM on September 18, 2010

A friend of mine is a stylist and a while back I talked to her about the subject. She said about of quarter of her clients fall asleep/zone completely out while getting their hair done. Ever since I learned this, I have closed my eyes and pretended to be drifting off. You don't have to talk at all! It's totally common! No one even calls you out on it! Try it!
posted by troublewithwolves at 7:56 PM on September 18, 2010

Somewhat related: my favorite awkward chit-chat happened recently at the dentist. The dental assistant was young and trying very hard to 'put me at ease' with small talk. Partial transcript:
Her:  So where do you work?
Me:   At the University.


Her:  In a building?
posted by mazola at 9:40 PM on September 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

You're doing fine. Just stop being embarrassed. I rarely talk to stylists beyond the basics, because I usually enjoy thinking about things while getting my hair cut, and I figure they're at work, sometimes it must be nice not to have to chat. And once in a blue moon, they say something interesting enough that a conversation happens. So you're not the only one, and don't sweat it.
posted by davejay at 9:40 PM on September 18, 2010

I don't do chit chat. I just suck at it. My hair stylists (I bounce between two at the same salon depending on availability) know this because the first time either of them cut my hair I told them that I hate chit chat and that it should be put at the top of my file in the computer. Both of them also know that I 100% don't care how they cut the back of my hair since I can't see back there.

I talk just enough to make sure they know what I want, that everyone is having a kinda okay day (I do ask just enough to make sure these gals don't need to use the bathroom before we get started, to make sure they're not having the worst day ever, etc.) Both of these women have thanked me when they see that I'm the next customer cause they know I'm not going to be chatting the entire time and that I'm not going to have a nervous breakdown if my hair is cut too short.

Both of these women also know that I'm a good tipper and that I'm there for a haircut and not to be updated on world/local/personal events.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 10:24 PM on September 18, 2010

I've frequently felt a little awkward when I've been having my hair cut. One thing I notice is myself talking in a mirror, and the second is that I have a disembodied head. Combined it stops me from being relaxed so I usually don't talk that much.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 12:25 AM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not much of a small talker, so what usually happens when I get my haircut is that the stylist asks me a couple of polite questions about whether I have vacation plans, etc., I answer, and then when she runs out of questions we drop off into a comfortable silence. It's never seemed to bother her. I think for some they just throw some stuff out there to see if they can get the ball rolling in case you're a chit-chatter, but I've never had anyone seem uncomfortable when we don't talk.

My husband doesn't want to talk AT ALL with his barber. He's been going to the same place for years so they know this about him and don't try to engage him at all past the initial "how would you like it cut?" He sits down, closes his eyes and lets them do their thing.

The way to let them know you're not interested in chatting without coming right out and saying so, is to give short, closed-ended answers to their questions.

"Going anywhere fun on vacation this year?" "No, not really."

"Nice weather we've been having!" "Yes, it has been beautiful this week."

You can use a friendly tone so you don't seem like a grump, but if you never ask a question in return or give them anything to work off of, the conversation will die a natural death.

Nthing the eyes-closed thing as well. As soon as the conversation lulls you can close your eyes and zone out which will discourage any further attempts. (Reading would be good too but doesn't work for me because I can't see without my glasses.)
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:48 AM on September 19, 2010

I am very salon shy. Once when my schedule was tight, I booked a morning appointment on the weekend. It actually turned out really well for me & my dread of small talk because I was sleepy enough that I didn't care that I wasn't talking much. I've made a point of scheduling my hair appointments in the morning since then. It's kind of nice to have that excuse to get out of bed on the weekend, and spend the whole day with a great new haircut.
posted by sk932 at 8:00 AM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Might be off topic, but from a former hairstylist's point of view, I was all for letting clients sit in silence. It was always a relief to not have a chatty client. Interestingly, many clients would start drilling me with questions ("so, what brought you to this city? how did you get started in hair styling? where are you from?" etc. etc.), I started out giving the long/full version of why I relocated, what I did for fun, etc. etc. and then it got to the point where I had to seriously abbreviate my answers.

When I would meet a new client, I would usually throw out a few starter questions, to feel out the client's personality, etc., and I could tell by their answers (or mumbles or grunts) if they were "talkers" or not. Mind, I was very happy to just do my work and let them zone out or chill because, yes, I was quite interested in paying attention to my work, getting through the style, and staying on schedule.

My point to you is that if you continue to visit this stylist, it should become more comfortable and you might actually find that you click and you have certain topics or interestes in common and that you'll actually enjoy discussing, like music or movies.

I had clients where we would immediately start discussing latest music we discovered or a really good movie to recommend. So, hopefully this stylist will pay attention to your mood/level of chattiness, interests, etc.
posted by foxhat10 at 12:23 PM on September 20, 2010

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