Strangers touch my braids

Braids are one of the major hairstyles preferred by Zambian women.  They are easy to maintain and one can leave them on for a long time – I have had my current ones for about two and half months.  One just needs to shampoo and oil one’s scalp and the braids.  Very convenient, especially for those (namely, myself) with kinky difficult to manage hair.  Having braids tends to be cheaper over the long run because they can be worn for so long.



I was on a bus in Bratislava, Slovakia with a friend when I felt someone pulling my braids and kind of massaging my scalp.  I was startled and surprised, looked up and saw two young Slovakian ladies staring at my hair and also having an animated conversation.  I looked at them questioningly and my conversation with them went like this:

Girls:  ;akdf ;akdfj aljdkf  (this is how Slovak sounded to me)

Me:  Pardon?  Can I help you?

Girls (pointing at my head):  ;akdjf ;akjf oek – (more Slovak)

My friend:  Sprechen sie Deutsch, bitte?

Girls (still pointing at my head):  No Duetsch, no English.  Hair, you hair?

Me:  No, not me hair.  Shop hair.  I buy hair (while making the universal sign of money i.e. rubbing my thumb against my forefinger).

Girls (touching my braids again and feeling the roots and a look of knowing washing over their faces):  Ah, not you hair.  Shop hair.  Nice long hair.

Braids styled into a bun

Braids styled into a bun

I know it is rude to touch someone you have no reason touching, but this did not annoy me.  The young ladies were perplexed at my strange hair and could not help themselves, or at least I told myself.  I have heard of fellow blacks getting angry at being touched. OK, maybe I have just not been touched in a way that made me feel uncomfortable or disrespected. Do I like strangers touching my braids?  No, though I do not mind getting in conversation with them about my braids touch, rather than being touched.

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lori D
    Feb 02, 2015 @ 02:34:43

    It’s good that you weren’t offended. You might’ve been just as perplexed with them at first, as they were with your braids. I find those braids to be beautiful and always marvel at them, but of course, I wouldn’t touch anyone. I’ve always wondered something about the braids and hope you don’t mind me asking. Don’t they grow out at the root where they are not braided? I mean, hair color grows out so fast at the root (as I know too well), so don’t the braids?
    Thanks for coming over to my blog.


    • Zambian Lady
      Feb 02, 2015 @ 14:07:13

      I don’t mind you asking at all – how can we learn without asking? 🙂 The roots start showing especially when the hair and wig colours are different. I have black hair and my current wig extension is blonde, so you can imagine the difference. When this happens, I start wearing head scarves to cover the front part of my head where the roots are more visible.


  2. livelytwist
    Jan 31, 2015 @ 17:35:46

    I think universally, we are curious about our differences. I wrote about this same thing a while ago. Like you, I overlook the irritation I (sometimes) feel and see myself as a cultural ambassador. But no one has ever touched my hair without asking. Those ladies were rude; they could have asked first . . . and I would have told them that but proceeded to answer their questions 🙂


    • Zambian Lady
      Feb 02, 2015 @ 14:08:51

      I agree that people, especially adults, should ask first before touching someone. I know braids are not so extraordinary that one loses their voice of asking! 🙂


  3. jedib
    Jan 31, 2015 @ 09:00:33

    Oh my goodness, I love reading about your adventures. I am aware, though, that they are not always comfortable for you, so I also feel bad about being entertained at your cost. Forgive me for that 🙂

    I’ve had extensive conversations with friends both black and white about the hair topic. I, for my part, am not happy with strangers touching me, period. But that’s cultural, or there are even different personalities within cultures, some are more outgoing and physical, others aren’t. But I am white, so nobody’s too interested in touching my hair anyway 🙂

    In the U.S. I think the hair of blacks (and the touching of it) bears particularly strong symbolism, which most people know there. Over here, many people don’t know about these things; race relations (and their history) are very different. My husband had to endure quite a bit of hair touching, which elsewhere would be considered such an deeply racist act. I am not saying that it’s entirely free of racism here, but I also don’t think that, e.g. my parents or my five-year-old nephew were anything but curious in a positive way. But they did ask before, and I don’t think any stranger walked up to him and touched his hair (it’s also short now and therefore not as spectacular as yours probably, and he is a man, which may also account for the difference).

    I do hope that, in the future, people will use their conversational skills instead of just grabbing your hair!

    Happy weekend!


  4. Gallivanta
    Jan 30, 2015 @ 23:40:26

    I can understand the fascination with the braids but, perhaps, it was less than polite to touch your hair. I don’t mind if children touch my very white hair.


    • Zambian Lady
      Feb 02, 2015 @ 14:24:31

      Interestingly for me, only adults have touched my braids, while children just stare (you know that kind of ‘I don’t care if you see me, I will stare all the same’ look). I am surprised because I expected it to be the other way round. Some of my Caucasian friends have told me that they have had their skin rubbed to see if the ‘white paint’ would come off, but no one seemed bothered about their hair.


      • Gallivanta
        Feb 02, 2015 @ 22:52:34

        I suppose we can look at these interactions as healthy curiosity which is better than the blank, dull lifelessness that you see on some people’s faces when they are out in public.

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