Expat Life: Getting Sheared

by Miss Footloose

Are you sweltering in the heat somewhere in the tropics or the northern hemisphere? This photo below of the town of Yerevan, capital of Armenia, taken in the dead of winter, should cool you down.  I’m now living in Moldova, baking in the summer heat, but some years ago I started a new expat life in Armenia, arriving in the middle of an arctic January.

winter in YerevanWintry Yerevan. Photo © Manan Tevosyan used by permission

My second day in my new habitat I had my first adventure: I got swindled. Here’s the story (a repost). May it cool you down.

Getting Sheared in Armenia

I’ve been in the Armenia less than two days. Yesterday someone from my husband’s new office took me house hunting, and this morning someone else took me around to show me where to do the shopping. Now it’s afternoon and while my man labors away at his new office, I’m scouting around town on my own to see what I can see, walking very carefully in my new boots, shivering in my also-new down-filled coat. It is so cold, so cold. I’m not in this photo taken by my (later to be) friend G. Peterson, but I might as well be.

winter in Yerevan

The ice-covered sidewalks are treacherous, the buildings grim and gray, and why is everyone dressed in black? I asked one of the office girls this question and she gave me a blank stare for a moment, as if she had never noticed or thought about it. “Because we like it,” she said finally. “Black is our national color.”

Not surprisingly, one of the other things I notice is Armenian words everywhere, on road signs and billboards and shop windows. Written in the Armenian alphabet, which is unique and indecipherable. There is no way to even make educated guesses.

Yerevan shop

Yerevan Cheese Shop Photo © Deb Collins used by permission

Growing up European, you learn a couple of languages here and there, and usually you can fake your way around the continent, but not here. Not only the alphabet, but the Armenian language itself is unique, not related to any other languages in the universe. I see Russian on signs and buildings as well (Russian was the official language in Soviet times), but that doesn’t do me much good either.

So, I am not a little bit ecstatic when in the center of town near Independence Square I spot the English words hair saloon on a sign with an arrow pointing into a courtyard. This gives me great hope for an English speaker inside. And because I really do need a haircut and because maybe it’s warm inside, I’m thinking I might as well give this a try. I find the “saloon” and push open the door.

Illusions are there to be shattered. It’s only just above freezing inside the tiny space and none of the three girls (wearing serious party make-up) speaks English. With no other clients there to help, they try Armenian on me, and then Russian. Then they give up. I’ve never felt such an illiterate in my life. But next week I still won’t speak either language and hey, a haircut is not rocket science. I indicate a couple of centimeters, about an inch, between my thumb and index finger and the fake blonde goes for it while keeping up a running conversation with her buddies shivering in their shabby fur coats. I don’t want to sound paranoid, but I suspect they’re discussing me by the way they’re checking me out — my funny light-colored coat, my inelegant flat-soled boots. All three are wearing boots with 4-inch spiky heels.

Some time later my stylist is finished with me and I look really interesting.

What I meant when I indicated the inch or so was to have that much hair cut off, not to have that much left. And just in case you didn’t know this, hair keeps your head warm, if you have it.

My stylist writes down the amount I owe her, in standard numerals, thank God, and I pay it. It’s only three times as much as I should have been charged, or so someone tells me the next day. My sincere hope is that these shivering girls get enough suckers like me to be able to save up for a functioning space heater.

NOTE: Living the expat life, you know you get suckered at times. It’s part of the deal, part of the price you pay for living such an exotic life (I hear you laugh). Sometimes it makes you furious, sometimes it doesn’t and sometimes it even makes you laugh. I’ve found that laughing works best.

* * *

As an innocent abroad, or an experienced expat, have you ever been cheated but you didn’t really mind? Please share your tale and make my day!

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Dr. Wendy

Awesome blog. I’m a stalker! 🙂 Passed you the Leibster Award. http://www.educatingwendy.com/2012/07/leibster-awards.html

I have lived abroad long enough to appreciate that as you have said getting swindled is part of the bargain. I have also had some weird hair cuts even when I spoke the local language. I am still nervous in the French open markets due to my inability to understand the metric measurements. I once requested 5 liters of cherries!!! Oh la la!

I get fleeced in my own hometown and in the Caribbean, which I consider my own place too. My sense of humour deserts me then!

You got fleeced 😉 I can’t think off hand of a time I didn’t mind getting cheated. I always hated it. Like Greg says, all those little half dollars add up, although in retrospect it just becomes another story, another aspect of expat life. There were times I made it work for me, and times I laughed about it with the person trying to cheat me. Once my daughter was about 8 or 9, and a group of friends (all expats) were doing a scavenger hunt at a party. There were the normal things on the list (find a goat… Read more »


My first week in Burundi I was cheated almost every day. By the time the weekend rolled around, I didn’t want to get out of bed. Now, triple checking money is just a way of life.


I love the words of wisdom at the end of this post . I’m currently living in Quito, Ecuador and someone tries to get over on me everyday. Usually the difference between the “gringo tax” and regular price is about .50 cents. After being here awhile that half dollar gets to be worth fighting over. We have friends and family visiting all the time and they look at me with bug eyes as I refuse to pay the extra 25-50 cents someone is asking for a taxi’s, sun-glasses, meals you name it. After a while if you can’t laugh about… Read more »

chubby Chatterbox

I’m a fierce negotiator, but once in Cancun I bought a Mayan mask and I was the one who cheated the proprietor. I insisted I hadn’t been given the right amount of change and pressed the point, threatening to call the police. When I returned to my hotel and redid the math I realized I’d cheated THEM out of fifty bucks. They were shocked beyond belief when I returned the next day and handed them a fifty dollar bill. You don’t want any bad juju attached to to your Mayan mask.

Loved this! When we lived in Singapore, I felt like I got cheated all the time. Not by that much, but by that “round-eye-premium.” I totally get how you felt at that hair salon, I always felt like they were discussing me as well, but maybe they were just chatting about the weather. Have you ever seen that Seinfeld episode where Elaine is paranoid at the nail salon because she thinks the Chinese attendants are chatting about here? Must-see if you haven’t. I agree with you – the best thing to do is just put it on the “expat account”… Read more »

When we lived in Cairo I attended an orientation class with an Egyptian instructor. In talking about pricing she explained that their way of looking at it was that it was only fair for a poor man to pay less and a rich man to pay more. She said even the locals paid different amounts depending on their (perceived) wealth. In the absence of a government social safety net, it was their form of income redistribution, she said. Since then I’ve been much more philosophical about being ‘overcharged’ because I am a westerner. Another example of how living overseas make… Read more »

Oh my. Hair is tricky. I had the joy of a full leg and bikini wax in Kenya. I was ushered into a ‘cubicle’ (a hard table surrounded by insufficient shower curtains) and examined. I was pronounced “very hairy for a Mzungu”, and promptly slathered with hot wax, spread with that most sanitary of waxing tools; a butter knife. No sooner had the offending areas been defuzzed than I was swabbed down with a grey, tattered washcloth plucked from a washing-up bowl filled with tepid water of dubious origin, parted from significant amounts of money and thrust out through the… Read more »

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