The Great Haircut Smackdown: USA vs. the World

The hair “salon” in Bishkek where I got my hair cut – basically a makeshift building in the middle of the bazaar.

On a Saturday afternoon in mid-October, I nervously sat down on a black leather chair in a hair salon on the outskirts of Moscow and held my breath. I had been on the road for nearly two months and I was feeling like an ugly duckling in the fashion conscious capital of Russia. When my host suggested a haircut, I eagerly said yes. Fifteen minutes later, I was trying to explain in Russian what I wanted:

Choot, choot,” I said as I held out the ends of my hair and put my thumb and finger together to demonstrate how much I wanted cut off.

Droogoya liniya,” I continued, asking for a cut in different lengths as I pointed to what was left of the existing layers in my hair.

To my pleasant surprise, the cut turned out great – better than most haircuts I ever had at home. At a price of around $30, it was far cheaper than many past haircuts as well.

Sergiev Posad
After a much-needed haircut in Moscow, Russia – my first haircut overseas!

After three more haircuts abroad, each leaving me increasingly satisfied, I finally returned to the United States and faced the idea of getting my hair cut at home once again.

It turned out fine – I basically asked that the stylist simply follow the lines of my existing cut and just trim about an inch off the bottom. But I made a few observations in the process:

1. The Shampoo

When I got my hair cut overseas, the shampoo was pretty no-nonsense. Indeed, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, I just stood over the sink as the stylist washed my hair. Back in the USA, though, the shampoo is much more of an experience – slow, careful, massaging and relaxing.

2. The Cut

The thing I loved about that first haircut in Russia and my subsequent cuts in Armenia and Kyrgyzstan was that the stylists knew how to cut my hair in a way that worked extremely well with my hair type. I asked for layers and they gave me true layers – after each haircut, I kept thinking, “this is exactly what I have been trying to get stylists in the US to do for the last decade.” And the thing was, they made it look easy, quickly snipping through my hair in about half the time it takes back home. I don’t know how they train people to cut hair in places like Russia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan or how that compares to training in the United States, but I feel like they have to be doing it in a significantly different way.

3. The Products

American stylists love to load my hair up with products. They usually use a gel or a mousse before blowing my hair dry and then generously spray it with hairspray once they are done styling. I usually leave the salon with my hair so stiff, it barely moves. I hate it. But no matter how much I protest, they insist to use at least “just a little pump” of this or “just a small spray” of that.

Overseas it was an entirely different matter. They used no products whatsoever. No gel, no mousse, no hairspray. I left the salons with my hair feeling completely natural and I loved it.

4. The Style


My first Armenian haircut.

The other constant I have found with American stylists is that they love to straighten my hair. Now, my hair is naturally curly. If I let it air dry, it bounces up into a random mix of tight curls and kinky waves.  I generally blow dry it somewhat straight myself, but it always has a few waves in it, culminating with some kind of flip at the bottom. Nonetheless, every stylist I have ever used in the United States insists on trying to use a straightening iron on my hair – they run it through repeatedly in an attempt to make my hair stick straight. And that just looks weird.

On the other hand, the stylists in Russia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan didn’t fight with the natural tendencies of my hair. Not only did they cut it in a way they worked with my natural curl (see above), they styled it naturally as well, blowing it out with a large round brush and, at times, smoothing it out with a large curling iron – no straighteners anywhere in sight.

5. Price

My most expensive haircut overseas was in Russia at around $30. From there, it was all downhill, with my cut in Yerevan running around $10 and my cut at the market in Bishkek costing only $3. Back home, I have spent anywhere from $15 (at the Aveda Institute, having a student trim my hair) to $100 (for a stylist who was supposed to be an expert in dealing with curly hair). The quality of those haircuts has been all over the board. I highly doubt I could find anything as cheap as $3 in the US, but I would guess it’s entirely possible to spend $100 on a haircut in any of the countries I visited.  The one constant: price in no way correlates to quality, no matter where you are.

6. Conversation

I have always hated making small talk with my hair stylist. I have never been able to find very much in common, yet they always try to chat me up, asking a ton of questions. I once had a stylist who regularly took nearly an hour to do my hair because she talked so much and couldn’t cut and talk at the same time. It drove me crazy! It was refreshing to get my hair cut in places where I don’t speak the language well because none of the stylists even tried to chat me up. They just cut away and got the job done.

In the end, I would take a haircut in Kyrgyzstan over a haircut in the United States any day.

From the price to the quality, everything about my experiences overseas was far better than getting my hair cut in the United States. Surprising, right?

6 thoughts on “The Great Haircut Smackdown: USA vs. the World”

  1. Overall the quality of haircuts for men in US sucks really bad. I’m originally from Eastern Europe and I have been living in US for 13 years. I have tried places from great clips to expensive salons and I find that the quality doesn’t change. Really bad. As Katie describes it, the haircuts in Russia and Eastern Europe are much better. If you ever get a chance to travel, I recommend you try it and you won’t be disappointed.

  2. I almost cried the first time (ok, only time so far) I had my hair cut in Germany. I had only been in my German class for a couple weeks, so I used the translation app on my phone to tell her what to do. I hated that she cut my hair so quickly because it felt haphazard. It ended up shorter than I wanted and the layers were too far apart from each other. To top it off, it was really expensive. It’s been 6 months, so I’m definitely due for a cut, but I’m dreading it.

    1. Oh no, that sucks! I know what you mean, though, about the fast cutting – the people who cut my hair in Russia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan were all very quick with their scissors – much more than in the US. It always made me a little nervous!

  3. agreed…the cut I got in Bogota, Colombia was one of the best ever…nothing crazy, no product…just a top quality cut in about 15 minutes max and cheap too…maybe $12 or so in a ‘good’ salon, but $12 added to the price of a ticket to Colombia = $300 not worth it

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top