I Gotta Have Faith (Faith, Faith) … Baby!

In 2015, during a four-month “what am I going to do next” trip around Europe and north Africa, I spent three weeks in Florence, Italy, one of my favorite cities in Europe. After several months of travel my salt-and-pepper locks were getting a little shaggy, so during one memorable hair-cutting experience I had my hair trimmed by a happy, middle-aged male Florentine barber who sang and danced around me to a George Michael’s 80s playlist playing over the speakers. I’m pretty sure I had a ridiculous grin on my face most of the time he was cutting my hair, at least until “Last Christmas” started up. In the middle of April. It was simultaneously surreal, funny and a little frightening. (Not least because “Last Christmas” might be one of my least favorite songs of all time.) 

Do you know what must be one of the most stressful endeavors during extended trips in foreign countries? Particularly non-English speaking foreign countries? Getting a haircut. Yep. There are no take-backs once those scissors come out. And if your barber or hair-stylist doesn’t speak English? 

[Insert “the scream” emoji here]

Last week I did a bit of inter-surfing and found a barbershop less than a 10-minute walk away. Bearbero. Lots of beards, beard-oil and hipster bearded Madrileños in red-checkered flannel shirts and denim. But, most importantly, the reviews for haircuts were high, the price was right, and when booking appointments their site conveniently had tiny Union Jacks denoting the barbers who could speak English. Jackpot! 

So earlier this week on a rainy Monday afternoon and with hopes high I headed to Bearbero. Jesus was my barber (because I couldn’t resist getting a haircut from Jesus), and I sat in the chrome-plated chair he pointed to. Then he started speaking in Spanish. Of course! I’m in Madrid. So I politely said, “Habla Inglés?”

“Un poquito.” No smile, no comforting look. 

At that point I simultaneously had warm, rosy-red cheeks and a cold wash of fear rushing down my spine. Then we started an embarrassing session of miming interspersed with pidgin English and broken Spanish. Okay, it was mostly pidgin English:

“Just trim.” Hands waved over the top of my head

“I don’t know what number.” Hands waved at the sides of my head. Shoulder shrug, apologetic look.

“I, uh, could you just, um…” Hand waving slowed. Smile fell off. Shoulders slumped. Razor blade came out. 

And with a serious look Jesus set to it. 

Okay, you might say, “What’s the big deal? It’ll grow back.” (Which at my age and gender is no guarantee!) But many of us are precious about our hair and looks. Too precious, of course. And I was frustrated. I had done due diligence to find an English-speaking barber, and instead I was embarrassed. I felt like an outsider and that had made a mistake. 

[On a side note, another thing I missed during the haircut was conversation. It was pure silence except for the buzz of clippers or “snip-snip” of scissors. Which might be another reason I got stressed…]

I can’t give myself too hard a time, because they did advertise English-speaking barbers, and Jesus simply didn’t speak English well enough to qualify. And that’s stressful for a customer. But it was good to be reminded that I shouldn’t presume to surf by with my English language and American culture while in a foreign land.

Jesus actually did a good job. You could probably say it was a miracle. (Wah wah wahhh…) I walked away with a nice haircut and a bit more humility. And isn’t gaining humility a prime benefit of cross-cultural travel?

I’m just glad my hair didn’t have to suffer too much for the lesson!