“Where Are You From Behind?”

Getting a Haircut in Gothenburg

Photo by the author

It was only a couple of weeks since I had flown in from New York, and was still finding my way around Gothenburg, a much smaller and quieter city compared to New York. This was my first time here — or in Sweden.

I realized 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 (pronounced Freezer or Freeser.)

I noticed Frisör written in bold on a red flag hanging outside the shop window with a pair of scissors and a comb printed on it. The price of a haircut was also displayed — 180 Kroner or US$ 22.

I walked in.

It was still early in the day, and there were no other customers. The barber, a thickset man with a Middle Eastern appearance, was dusting the chairs. He greeted me unsmilingly 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 started talking to me as barbers usually 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 told him.

“Hmmm” was his reaction. I couldn’t tell if it meant he was happy, indifferent, or uneasy.

Then came his second question:
“How old are you?”
I dodged that question and asked him, instead, “where do you come from behind?”
“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 say ‘mowing’ because that’s what he did. He mowed my hair, starting from one ear going around the back of my head to the other ear. He did not use scissors or a comb, as promised on the red flag hanging out on his shop window.

When he was done with the job, I looked into the mirror and saw a reflection of a freshly interned prisoner staring back at me. All I needed was a pair of striped pajamas to complete the picture.

When I came back home, I was greeted with bemused looks, and a question: Did you visit a barber?
“Yes, why?”
“Because your ears look a lot lower!”

I don’t think I’ll need a haircut for another few months.

Moral of the story: Get a haircut from your favorite barber in the country of your residence before you embark on a journey to a foreign land.

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