In the Chair

I am not particularly observant, but I think I notice that one or two of our longer-term students have had their hair cut.

Getting your hair cut in a foreign language is a brave move. You put you head in the hands of the fates.

I remember when I moved to Italy having to screw up my courage to walk into a barber. I assiduously prepared the vocabulary for what I thought I wanted (longer, shorter, back, sides, trim) and thought about it for a week or more (urgency with hair-cutting is a relative concept). Then when I finally got into the chair and explained to a peculiarly nervous barber what I had in mind and he started cutting, his first comment, so far as I could make it out, was ‘changing your look, then?’.

And as it transpired, I was indeed changing my look. I came out like one of the Bash Street Kids. But it wasn’t the end of the world. Ultimately, you never quite know what you will walk out with. You place yourself squarely in a barber’s hands. Your hair is not under your control.

All I really require from a barber is a bit of peace and quiet. I finally settled on a barber in Rome who was both competent and silent. I explained the first time I went what I wanted – my Italian was better by now – and came out satisfied. When I next went back he said only one thing to me: “the usual?”. I was amazed he remembered. Perhaps he only had one haircut – the usual. Anyway, I went back for years, and it was always and only ‘the usual’.


For those who want to research their haircuts in detail before risking the chair, there’s an exhibition on the origins of the afro-comb at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. They have more combs than you can shake a stick at, covering some 5000 years. Entrance is free, as ever. Detail here. And there is a full exhibition website here.


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