Lets get one thing straight: living in another country is hugely different to holidaying in another country. It may not seem so dissimilar on the surface – there is, at times, enough sun, sand and sangria here in Spain to suggest otherwise – but eventually, every expat realises that they have to build a life; find a place to live, make new friends, get used to the local fodder and, worst of all, get their hair cut.
This daunting task is obviously a lot easier after a few months of tussling with the local lingo, but at least initially, the anxiety brought on by such a distressing yet gallingly necessary exercise can be enough to put you off your paella for weeks. Even going for a haircut in your native country is worrying at the best of times, but imagine trying to do it in a country whose language you’re only just getting to grips with.
If the proper steps aren’t taken, then consequences can be disastrous; the mullet, for example, still very much lives and breathes in Spain, as does the army-style crewcut. I fell victim to the latter days after my arrival here just over two years ago. I had learnt the words for ‘short’ and ‘long’ but foolishly forgotten to write them down, giving rise to inevitable confusion and a sort of Spongebob squarepants look that I’d never sported before.
This experience left me justifiably wary of Spanish barbers, so for the next year or so I opted to cut my own hair, which, in hindsight, was an even worse decision owing to the frequent hunks of hair visibly missing from the back of my gauchely beshaven bonce.
Earlier this year, however, I waltzed back in to a nearby peloquería, confident that I possessed sufficient Spanish to help me through the impending ordeal. Fortunately, I did, and I eluded another coiffure cataclysm. Now I am on first name terms with my chatty barber, and a simple ‘lo mismo como siempre’ is all I need to say.
Though if I look back on that first dismaying encounter with a Spanish barber and his set of not-so-trusty clippers, I can’t help but think that with a bit of expert guidance and some thorough planning, my resulting Spongebob bouffant might have been successfully averted…
So if you’re new in Spain, or in any other foreign land for that matter, and your locks are in need of a good sheering, then heed my advice:
One: Learn some useful phrases and write them down
Do this and the risk of adversity will be considerably reduced. Pronunciation may be an issue, but if you’re really unsure then simply show your barber what you’ve written. You could even get a local friend to translate exactly what you want to say onto paper, though ensure that this friend can be trusted; you wouldn’t want to get stitched up and be the laughing stock. Some useful Spanish phrases to know are:
“Me gustaría un corte de pelo por favor” – “I’d like a haircut please”
“Corto por los lados y de atras, pero mas largo por la parte de arriba por favor” – “Short round the back and sides but longer on top”
“Solo un recorte por favor” – “Just a trim please”
“Me gusta liso/rizado” – “I like it straight/curly”
“Está bien asi?” – “Is it fine like that?”
“Si, está bien asi” – “Yes, it’s fine like that / No, it’s not fine like that, but I’m going to pretend it is and swear all the way home”
Two: Cut out a picture from a magazine
If your style can be likened to any celebrity hairdos, you may want to take one or two magazine clippings with you. This keeps things simple and, needless to say, completely eradicates the necessity of words. However, this is neither culturally embracing nor healthy for your second language skills. And there’s no telling what the back will look like.
Three: Look serious and don’t talk
Following the initial verbal hurdles, one then has two options; proceed, and try in vain to understand and contribute to the barber’s chosen topic of conversation, or sit down, look dead ahead and keep schtum. If you opt for the latter route then the assumption is that the barber, upon noting your unwillingness to engage in small talk or listen to him harp on about football or whatever, will inadvertently become quietly engrossed in what he or she is doing and therefore be less prone to mistakes or overzealous snipping.
Four: Ask for something simple
If back at home your usual cut involves blending, thinning out, colouring, straightening, shaping (is that a service?) etc, then you may want to rethink your style abroad. Throwing technical words like this into the mix only complicates matters, and leaves you wide open to potentially perilous consequences. Start small and work your way up.
Five: Take a friend
If you have nice, native friends with enough free time on their hands, then why not bring them along? This eliminates the possibility of having to contend with unanticipated questions and accidentally agreeing to a number one all over or, heaven forbid, the famed dreadlock mullet.
Six: Get drunk
If the idea of leaving your precious head of hair in the hands of a non-English speaking barber really does give you the heebie-jeebies, then you might find that a generous pre-intake of alcohol will help alleviate your concerns. And of course everybody speaks better Spanish when they’re drunk. That’s just science.
Have you ever had a haircut in Spain or any other part of the non-English speaking world and experienced disastrous consequences? Or do you have any other tips? Let’s hear about it!