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I moved from the US to a small conservative town in Kosovo. My hairdresser even called my husband to get his approval on my haircut.

HF Sylaj   

I moved from the US to a small conservative town in Kosovo. My hairdresser even called my husband to get his approval on my haircut.
  • I moved to my husband's small hometown in Kosovo.
  • I don't leave home without an escort and was once asked to get my husband's permission for a haircut.
"Did you ask your husband?"

That was the question I got when I wanted to cut my hair. I was visiting my friend at her hair salon. She owns it, and we often hang out and knit when business is slow. It was spring, and I wanted to do something spontaneous, so I asked her to cut my long hair.

It seemed like an easy decision. It is my hair, after all. But I had forgotten that I wasn't in America anymore.

I had moved to a small town in Kosovo, where I had to adjust to the new culture.

Moving to a new country brought unexpected cultural rules to obey

Kosovo is a country on the Balkan peninsula of southern Europe. It boasts a large Muslim population, so customs can be very different from what I grew up with in the US. Life in large cities here is quite cosmopolitan. Visitors won't notice much difference from other European countries other than the call to pray being played on loudspeakers five times a day from the mosques.

However, I don't live in a big city. I moved to my husband's very rural and very small hometown. Life and rules are different here. Calling it "old-fashioned" is an understatement.

Even though I tried to convince my hairdresser/friend that my husband wouldn't care if I cut my hair, she insisted on calling him for permission. He gave it, of course. My husband doesn't care what I do with my hair as long as I keep it out of his food. But there have been other unusual rules he has asked me to follow since moving here that are different from how we lived in America.

The largest change was that my husband asked me not to leave our property without an escort — either himself or another woman. People here love America but often make the mistake that many people outside America make: They think all Americans live like the people portrayed by Hollywood. My husband was worried that if I were seen walking around by myself, people would think I was sneaking away to cheat on him.

I agreed to the request, but I didn't believe it was an issue until I heard people on multiple occasions talking about a chatty woman I know who walks all over town by herself. What they said was not pleasant. Though I usually don't care what others say about me, it is different when you are new in town. It also impacts my husband.

This brings up the next custom I had to learn to follow: I shouldn't smile or be friendly to people — especially men. A woman is expected to be very loyal to her husband, and smiling or greeting another man (especially a stranger) can be seen as disloyal. I am from the super-friendly upper Midwest, so this has been hard. I still feel rude when I don't smile and nod at an older gentleman. But I understand it is a way to show respect to not only my husband but also the gentleman and his wife.

Not following the rules will get me ostracized

Though the customs might seem strict, they make sense for life in this small town. I also remind myself that I didn't come here to make people change.

Not following society's rules here can lead to some harsh repercussions. I know a woman with a son who has often been in trouble with the law. When we moved here, my husband wouldn't let me go to her home for coffee when we were invited because I could have been judged negatively for even visiting her. To this day, I regret not going, but I trust that my husband understands his culture better than I do.

Overall, I love my new life. Adjusting hasn't always been easy, but after three years, I have grown to accept and feel comfortable in this culture.

Correction: June 3, 2024 — The headline and some passages in an earlier version of this story mistakenly applied some of the author's observations about a small town in Kosovo to Kosovo as a whole. The story was updated to clarify the scope of the author's experience.

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