It’s a chilly Italian morning, the frost infiltrates the Venetian blinds and envelopes me in a humid cloud of chill.
And my left cheek is the size of a potato.
I’m in an Airbnb in the medieval town of Macerata ready to pull out my tooth with my bare hands. We’ve only been in Italy for a week. Hence we’re still searching for a place to live, trying to stabilize our immigration status and deeply regretting not studying Italian before arriving. And I mean deeply.
My husband tracks down a dentist recommended by the handful of people we’ve met so far. With broken Italian I manage to prod a few words into Google translate to discover I am about to undergo a root canal. The biggest of the canals, totaling none less then 3 appointments. In Italian.
He abandoned a mask and for a dentist owned an unsettling mouth odour that wafted its way right back into my open muzzle.
It didn’t instill confidence.
By the third appointment my Italian dentist bypassed the anesthetic altogether. I imagine he figured after 2 hours of swiping out my nerves there was little feeling left.
Having a rather complex procedure in a language I couldn’t even fathom 40% was tough and maybe that’s the grit that stayed with me through the rest of the Italian struggles.
At this point, I feel there’s a whole shipload of grit pulsing though my veins. And the principal culprits are definitely the toothaches and haircuts.
It’s another Italian morning, still chilly as we approach the 1 month mark in Italy. Henrique has just stepped back into the apartment after his first visit to an Italian barber. He has the haircut of an Italian teenage boy. Alarmingly short back and sides and a sizable fluff of hair plopped on top.
I shouldn’t have laughed and assume responsibility for the consequences. I’m greeted by hair massacre in the bathroom. The clumps of black curls litter the floor. And there is Henrique endeavoring to hack off the fluff of hair. The result is patchy abysses dotted all over his head.
The third barber of the night, declared he’d have to shave everything off. My husband’s scalp gleamed back at me. He looked like the mafia. The good news was that we didn’t have any friends in Italy at that point, so no-one really found out, but the memory lives on in graphic detail in my mind.
The Hurdles of Moving Abroad
There are a thousand challenges about moving abroad, but there are two that stand out. Of all the twists and turns, obstacles and bureaucracy, the haircuts and the toothaches are what have me tossing and turning at night. One can have you parading around in a wild hairstyle for months until it grows back, the other can suck your bank account dry at a moment’s notice.
It’s telling when Henrique’s photos in China have him sporting a curly Afro and my first Brazilian Christmas has me looking like I’m wearing a mop.
Brazilian Haircuts and Dentists
There are subtle intricacies of communication with your hairdresser (in your native language), that allow you to trust blindly placing your head to the mercy of a scissor-wielding stranger. I’ve had some weird experiences in Brazil too.
Never ask for a “feathered look”. It doesn’t translate well in Portuguese.
I left the first hairdressers with a funky “summer do” that could only have been pulled off by someone with the cheekbones of a supermodel. Foolishly, when it grew back, I request layers again. At the last moment, when the end is in sight, Ms. Hairdresser whips out a metal instrument that resembles a giant nail clipper and proceeds to stream it through my locks. It had the effect of stripping the hairs haphazardly until they sprung out into angry looking ends.
I was part medusa, part pineapple.
The first Brazilian dentist was equally traumatic. A foreign dentist appointment is a composite of not entirely understanding what is happening, while also keeping polite small talk in another language with that person’s fingers inside your mouth.
The dental clinic was antique. My Brazilian dentist hung a suction device from my bottom lip. There was no dental nurse (a position I had vastly misjudged, since it was said bottom lip which was now assuming dental nurse responsibilities).
I began to appreciate my UK dentist.
Ms Dentist developed the x-ray by hand in a dark room, producing a 3×2 inch image of my mouth. I look at her incredulously, indignant that she can’t decipher anything with such a tiny image. Then my insurance defaulted and I forked out for that ridiculous procedure.
An Ode to the NHS
Firstly, an ode to NHS who serve as a buffer so you don’t have to fret that your savings will be diverted to paying off dental work or medical bills (I’m looking at you USA). Secondly, an ode to the reservation of the Brits who are hesitant, reserved and not overly giddy when they see blond hair.
A warning for jet setters that hairdressers are tricky waters to navigate.
To language teachers, I plea the urgency of lessons teaching how to get decent haircuts and dental jargon in another language. And for now, I thank the Lord that I can communicate with my American hairdresser.
The moment I get toothache though, I’m hopping on a plane home.