I have been living in France off and on since I first arrived at 17 in an elaborate escape from high school. I came of age here, fell in love here, got my degrees here, and started a life.
Since I speak French at home and work; my adopted language has grown to be my dominant tongue. My cat has a French ID card. Generally speaking, I feel pretty integrated.
Recently, however, I've been having a funny experience.
I’ve been wearing my mid-length hair in double French braids that I pin into a bun at the nape of my neck. It’s a practical way to get my hair off my face in windy fall weather. I put them up nice and tight in the morning; by nighttime, they have relaxed enough to look cool if I want to go out.
I hadn’t been thinking much of it until a couple of weeks ago when I started getting some strange reactions. Once, I was crossing the street when a kid about 12 turned to his mom and said, “Look, Mom, a Russian!”
Then, at a party in the same week, someone at a party asked my boyfriend about his “Russian girlfriend.”
Not only do these braids make me suddenly look very foreign, I apparently now look… Russian?
I’m probably triggering some idea of a traditional national costume from a children’s book or the Miss Universe contest or something. It’s definitely not offensive to be confused for a Russian person, I just feel bad for the people of Russia for falsely representing them in the eyes of the French.
It’s a surprise to me that braids--technically an ancient East African hairstyle, now really trendy in the US--would be so deeply tied to the image of Russian nationality here. It’s a reminder of the power of visual signifiers of origin in how we dress and adorn ourselves.
I think the antiquity and diversity of braids are their main allure. I definitely enjoy wearing mine. I’ve been doing them frequently on Sundays to give my hair a break from washing and styling.
They hold up much better than a ponytail, which is practical for sports and active weekends in the mountains. They look just as cool when they are a little haphazardly woven and a little beat up from a day of exercise.
I bought a new product to use on my braids that I really love. It’s the Sérum de Soie Sublimateur from Leonor Greyl, my favorite hair care brand. It’s a combo protein/hydration serum with a really light texture designed for fine hair like mine. I run a couple of pumps of product through my hair before I start braiding to moisturize and smooth the ends of my braids.
It smells like a garden of jasmine--really sublime.
Are you wearing braids this fall? What nationality do you get mistaken for?