It had only been a couple of weeks since I had flown in from New York, and was still finding my way around the quieter streets of Gothenburg. I had never been to Gothenburg or, for that matter, to Sweden before.
I needed a haircut. A slight trimming actually, since I don’t have much hair left on my head. It took some walking about the town before I spotted a barbershop, or a Frisör, as it is called in Swedish. It is pronounced Freezer or Freeser.
The name, Frisör, was written on a red flag hanging out on the shop window along with a pair of scissors and a comb painted on it. The price of a simple haircut was also displayed — 180 Kroner or 22 US dollars.
I walked in.
It was still early in the day, and there were no other customers in the shop. The barber, a thickset man with a Middle Eastern appearance, was dusting the chairs. He greeted me and pointed to one of the three empty chairs. After putting the barber cape around me, he asked me the standard question barbers ask their customers, “How do you want your hair cut?”
“Just a bit of trimming from the sides and the back,” I told him.
He nodded, and proceeded to look for the necessary tools in a drawer. He took out only a hair clipper, or the machine as we call it. No comb or scissors! While he proceeded with the job, he also started talking to me, as barbers, all over the world, tend to do with their customers. His knowledge of English was minimal. “Where you come from?” he delivered his first question.
“New York,” I said.
He didn’t seem to be satisfied with my answer, and elaborated his question.
“Where do you come from behind?”
“Pakistan,” I said.
“Hmmm!” was his reaction.
I couldn’t tell if he was happy, unhappy, excited — or frightened — with my answer.
He then delivered his second question, “How old are you?”
I dodged that question, and asked him, instead, “Where are you from?”
“I’m an Iraqi Kurd, nine years in Sweden,” he answered.
While we carried on with our chitchat, he continued mowing my hair with the machine. I use the word ‘mowing’ because that’s what he did. He literally mowed my hair starting from one ear to the other. No scissors or a comb, even though these were the tools displayed on the red flag hanging out on his shop window.
When he was done with the job, I looked into the mirror and saw myself looking like a freshly interned prisoner. All I needed was a pair of striped pyjamas to complete the picture.
I don’t think I’ll need a haircut for another two or three months. Moral of the story: Get your haircut from your favourite barber in the country of your residence before you embark on a journey to a foreign land.