One of the clearest memories I have of my preteen years is that of my first visit to the hairdresser. I remember it because the profound impact that the conversation with the hairdresser had on me.
It was during summer holidays when we visited Syria and attended a family wedding. I remember us girls being shipped to the hairdresser on the day of the wedding, the bride-to-be was of course the centre of attention being fussed over, as a bride should be; and the older girls giggling with excitement and anticipation of a future promise.
There was a lot of chatter, laughter and chaos as everyone spoke to each other at the same time. We have a saying in Arabic describing such moments: “like a Turkish bath without water”. I don’t know if this an accurate description, as I have never been to Turkish bath- let alone one without water!
I watched as each woman took her turn sitting in the hairdresser’s chair, discussing looks and hairstyles; of course, as unwritten customs have it, the older girls went first.
Then came my turn, the eldest of the younger lot. As soon as I sat down, the hair dresser let out a deep sigh, excused himself as he reached for his shirt pocket, took out some tablets and said “I must take these, chatting to all those women gave me a headache. I can relax now”
I was struck with awe by his comment for several reasons. First, I was a child- and he has just entrusted me with his truth -how do I handle this honesty?
Second, it seemed like everyone was having a day, I never imagined the toll it might take on the hairdresser to keep everyone happy, satisfied and the pressure that goes with the obligatory conversations with customers, to entice their return.
Third, how right he was as most of those conversation where like diary entries, with each woman offloading daily happenings and private opinions to the hairdresser.
I felt privileged and sat quietly as he took charge of my hair- something that I still do whenever I visit my hairdresser after having discussed objectives of the visit. I am curious, however, so I sometimes, unashamedly, eavesdrop in attempt to stay current on diary entries of the times!
My last visit, when I became a redhead, was no different. Except when Fadi noticed a book I was reading on Tarot and asked why. I explained that I do read tarot card and was currently teaching a course on how they are a self-transformational tool.
His response was “Aha!” – and that started a brief but prosaic conversation while his other client was getting her hair shampooed and rinsed.
We discussed Tarot, spirituality, destiny versus self-will, the possible construct of religions as a panacea for the masses, philosophy and psychology, Yaguel Didier, a famous French psychic whose card I love, and whom he turned out to know well; all within few minutes!
At the end of my visit, Fadi was putting the finishing touches, looked at the end result of his work in the mirror, and said in jest “Sahar, I have known you so many years, why do you still come to me? I’ll tell you why- because I am good!”
“I said no! it is because you are a nice, decent person as well as talented. There are many who are good, but whom I would not like to be in their company – their ego gets in the way”. “You’re right he said. I travel and you’ve been away but it’s like there were interruptions”
When I arrived back home, I through about my last visit, and realised two things. The first is that even in silence there are conversations. In fact, I would go further and say that if you can sit in silence in the company of another, then you’re comfortable with their friendship.
The second is that Small-talk with hairdressers might not be all that small after all. It seems to me that it fulfills a social purpose just as men’s conversations with their bar tender does. However temporary the connection is, it remains a genuine one.