On the eve of my hair appointment, I’m reminded once again of the sheer number of hair salons that exist in Sweden. It’s like how – from the countries or cities I have lived in – I am still struck by the number of doughnut shops in Canada, pubs in the UK and, er, fancy dog boutiques/salons on the Upper East Side in New York City. To me, the preponderance of these “services” say something about each culture: Canadians eat the most doughnuts in the world per capita and they need to be constantly fed or else they stop being nice, Brits socialise in pubs and nowhere else, while New Yorkers from the Upper East Side pamper their pooches outrageously.
So what does the preponderance of hairdressers say about Sweden?
I would venture to say that Swedes strongly identify themselves through their hair.
It’s partially a blond thing. There aren’t many left in the world so being naturally blonde is a point of pride. And for the hordes who attempt to achieve certain states of blondeness without the required genes, they must be keeping up appearances for the sake of the rest of the world who seem to equate Sweden with blonde hair (and Ikea meatballs, but that’s something else), right? Interestingly, there are also people who cover up their naturally golden locks with dark dye because they don’t want to look like “everyone else” in the country. Either way, that’s a lot of time being logged in the salon chair.
But perhaps it’s a “fashion statement” thing, too. Because there is a quasi-official uniform for nailing the Swedish minimalist cool look, hair becomes the differentiator. Talking in grand, sweeping generalisations, this means Swedes tend to opt for slightly more adventurous yet chic haircuts to help them stand out, especially the men. And because we all know how long it takes to find the right hairdresser, all these salons must belong to one big “trial and error” expedition to help Swedes become the most stylish people on the planet. So really, the hair salons are a national requirement. Just like Ikea meatballs.