Ask anyone who runs a service business and they will no doubt have their roster of amusing client stories. But ask a Pakistani business owner about their experiences with clients who are of Pakistani descent but born abroad and you will spot a common thread of frustration; 80 per cent of these visitors will insist on seeing us ‘natives’ as the humblest of hicks, the simplest cave-dwellers that ever were. This attitude is positively impenetrable.
An American client once told me, upon inquiry during idle chit-chat, that she worked in “The Magic Kingdom” (Not Disneyland, but the magic kingdom itself apparently! Evidently her morning routine is precipitated by the ministrations of woodland creatures that make her bed, start her coffee machine and answer her emails). This same starry-eyed innocent felt free to comment with surprise on the cleanliness of my salon, the fluency of my English and the freedom that meant that I could drive myself home.
The same maddening attitude was demonstrated by a client who had been a New Yorker for a decade or so. She insisted on pulling out all of her own make-up even though I had the same brands sitting right in front of her. I wanted to show her the effect of mascara application and so I picked up an eyeshadow case and directed her to view the result in the little mirror within. She looked at me with condescension and explained that what I was holding in my hand was not in fact mascara but eyeshadow. I blinked in confusion until I realised that this woman was not even crediting me with the IQ of a toast rack. Did she think I thought this was some magic powder out of a Harry Potter novel that, with the swish of a (mascara) wand, would magically transform itself into eyelash-shaped cream? Did she really not feel me applying her mascara a few seconds earlier? No! She had simply decided that there was no way that I could understand even the absolute basics of my profession. After all, I live in Pakistan.
I have had countless experiences like this and comments ranging from, “It’s good to see that you all use good praaaducts here” to “Well, in America, we have…” Yes, thanks for the heads-up. I have never travelled. Or switched on a television. Or watched a movie. You see, we don’t get cable in the network of caves that we occupy, so I really wouldn’t know what goes on in the outside world.
Here are my top five favourite (and most common) comments from my expatriate clients:
1) “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but your services would be much more expensive than this in the US/UK!”
2) “Have you heard of MAC?” (For those who may not have paid any attention, this is the most famous make-up brand in the world. It’s like asking a dentist, “Have you heard of Oral B?”)
3) “Is this mineral water?”
4) “Yes, people are very anti-brown now in the UK, it’s tough to live in London these days. But you know, it’s true — there are just far too many immigrants.”
5) “Hey, your bathroom is so clean!”
— Bina Khan is a make-up artist, photographer, skin technician and writer. She owns a salon and photography studio in Karachi, writes for Newsline and The Express Tribune and has a widely read blog.