How to... Humour Newbie Expat Stuff Spain

How to… get a haircut with minimal Spanish!

December 27, 2012
Haircut, Spain, worried

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 cervezas 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 irritatingly 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.

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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 a year or so ago. I had learnt the words for ‘short’ and ‘long’ but foolishly forgotten to write them down, giving rise to inevitable confusion and subsequently 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 strolled back into a nearby peluquería, confident that I possessed sufficient Spanish to help me through the impending ordeal. Fortunately, I did, and I eluded another disaster. Now I am on first name terms with my chatty barber, and a simple ‘lo mismo como siempre’ is all I need to say.

Torres, Mullet, Spain, España, Hair, Pelo

This was not a fad in Spain

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 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”

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Two: Cut out a picture from a magazine

If your style is similar 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 eliminates the necessity of words. However, this is neither culturally embracing nor healthy for your Spanish skills. And there’s no way of knowing 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 Real Madrid, will subsequently become totally engaged with the task at hand and therefore be less prone to mistakes or overzealous snipping.

Haircut, Spain, worried

I’m sure we all know just how this chap feels…

Four: Ask for something simple

If back 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.

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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 some other foreign land and experienced disastrous consequences? Or do you have any other tips? Let’s hear about it!

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  • Marianne December 27, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    I think the Fernando Torres style would suit you beautifully, Josh – complete with blond tips! 😉

    • Josh December 28, 2012 at 12:31 am

      HA! You know I actually had blonde on the top years ago at school. ‘Cheese on toast’ they used to call me. Thankfully the mullet didn’t feature. That would have been high school suicide.

  • Cassandra January 13, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Haha, fun tips! I try to bring in pics but that doesn’t always help…

    I actually just posted about this same topic the day after you did– Que casualidad!

    • Josh January 13, 2013 at 8:16 pm

      How odd. Pleased you managed to navigate your way through it without any stray snips- you’re very brave for going in on Christmas Eve!

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  • Jessica of HolaYessica February 23, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Ohh I’m so terrified of getting a haircut in Spain. I just wait until I go home and get them there. That means I always have really long hair, but at least I’m a girl so it’s socially acceptable.

    It’s not even that I don’t speak the language; I’ve just seen so many questionable hairstyles on the people coming out of my local EasyCut! I don’t want to walk out with the Fernando Torres either.

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  • Conor W October 19, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Cheers for the tips and vocab mate. 4 weeks here (Salamanca) and finally deciding to take the plunge today lol shall see how it goes…

    • Josh October 23, 2013 at 11:26 am

      How did it go then??

  • Keefieboy November 17, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    Excellent article! For my first two or three years in Madrid, haircuts were things that only happened when I went back to England – fortunately I’m not a short back and sides kinda guy, so the ever-increasing length of my locks doesn’t really matter.

  • Russ Pearce February 18, 2014 at 7:58 am

    Spain is not as bad as Vietnam was! At least here I can point to the top and say quatro then to the sides and say tres and it usually more or less works. My wife has had a few disasters though and had to say pare (STOP!) last time when he obviously misunderstood her instruction. Apparently he thought that poquito meant she only wanted a little hair left on her head!!!!

    • Josh February 18, 2014 at 1:30 pm

      Haha! Oh the dangers involved! Thanks for the share Russ 🙂

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  • shannon province June 28, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    Ohh I’m consequently fearful to getting the haircut throughout Spain. I just now wait until My partner and i head out home and obtain these right now there. That means I have genuinely very long locks, although no less than I’m a woman consequently it’s socially acceptable.

  • Christopher January 28, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    Thanks for the advice. This will be my third trip to a Buenos Aires barber’s, the first two went ok but I want to make an effort this time, not just bumble my way to something good enough 😉

    • Josh January 30, 2015 at 6:26 pm

      It pays to go prepared! My housemate returned from his first foray into a Spanish peluqueria with the worst haircut I’d ever seen the other day. Always take a picture as back up 😉

  • Shannon June 18, 2015 at 10:51 pm

    Glad I stumbled upon your blog! I’ve only been in Spain for four days and am already getting ready to venture a haircut. Gracias!

    • Josh June 21, 2015 at 11:18 pm


  • Jennifer January 28, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    I wish i read this article last month before i went to Spain haha

    • Josh January 31, 2016 at 6:33 pm