About two months ago…
I desperately needed a haircut. I couldn’t even look at my hair. Everything happened so fast I didn’t get the chance to have my hair cut before I moved to Italy and the last one I had was early in the summer in Southampton (I miss the UK so much more I dare to admit sometimes).
Of course it wasn’t about the hair. It was all about self care and I’d started neglecting myself, pretty dangerous for me, it lets the depression and severe anxiety demons creep in and slowly take over without me realising until is too late, so I had to get my hair cut. Urgently.
I’m not sure if you remember where I live now, it’s a small city where very few people you come across speak English, so even the thought of attempting to book an appointment I found intimidating.
But self-preservation prevailed and I wouldn’t let my very poor Italian get in the way. (My Italian hasn’t improved much since, in case you are wondering.)
If you asked me what the most common expression I’ve used so far during my first three months in Italy was, it’s not ‘scusi’, or ‘per favore’ but..
‘Non parlo Italiano’.
It’s my opening line most of the time. Oh no, I actually first speak in English, as I often forget they won’t understand me, then I notice the baffled expression on their face and I explain.
So here’s how I managed to get a (decent) haircut with minimal communication but plenty of awkwardness.
Eleni- ‘Hi, I’d like too…, oh sh**. Non parlo Italiano, parle Inglese?
Hairdresser- Mmmm, no… (waves at one of the other hairdressers who knows a bit of English apparently).
El- Taglio (cut). Pointing at my hair. ‘Un po’ (How the hell do you say ‘trim’ in Italian?)
H-Si. Quando? (Yes! Finally a word I know!)
El-Sabato, matina (morning)?
H– (After checking their appointment book). Mm, tredici? (1pm, Italians tend to follow the 24hr format).
E– Si, si, grazie!
Pheew. First step done. I managed to book an appointment!
Saturday (haircut day)
I couldn’t remember if the appointment was at 11am or 1pm. In my head numbers were mixed up the minute I left the hairdressers two day ago. Full time teaching does that to you, messing up your brain. So I went at 11am, just to check. The hairdressers burst into laughing. I thought I’d attempt to go food shopping since I got up anyway, but the supermarket was way too busy for my liking (Damn, I could have stayed in bed a little longer).
I walked in. I had no idea what to say or do. The place was full of customers chatting away. I felt paralysed, mute. I couldn’t let any words out. I didn’t know how to. I could understand some of the conversations but I couldn’t take part. A horrible feeling.
That’s how my students must feel… I kept thinking.
After about half an hour wait (which I was ‘lucky’ as quite often you wait way longer, I was told), I was summoned on the chair.
The stylist asked me how I wanted my hair. I managed to explain (thanks to Antonella, Elena and Google translate) that I just wanted a trim and layers but not too short.
I was terrified. What if she gives me a horrible haircut, what if I end up looking like a pencil?
We didn’t speak much after that. She couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Italian. She made an effort, which I appreciated, she asked me if I was a student, thankfully I knew how to say ‘I’m an English teacher’. My second most used expression (‘insegnante di Inglese’).
An hour later and after a lot of miming and gesturing (and a few word exhanges partially thanks to similarities between Greek and Italian), I left the hairdressers relieved I didn’t look like a pencil, it was actually a decent haircut and cheap compared to UK prices (12 euros).
But it was the most awkward hairdresser’s experience I ever had. And kind of funny at the same time. I had a little giggle afterwards. It’s fascinating how we humans manage to communicate even when we don’t speak the same language, although sometimes we can’t communicate even if we do speak the same language. The irony.
A month later and I’m none the wiser when it comes to Italian. My timetable doesn’t allow me to attend Italian lessons anymore, though I’m still learning from my students, who feel incredibly proud judging by the huge smile on their face every time they teach me an Italian word.
I’m not sure I’d like to stay in (Southern) Italy after my contract ends, but one thing I discovered is that I love living somewhere I’ve never lived before, being thrown into the deep, learning how to… well how to adopt and survive in another country, another culture, another life. That’s something I definitely want more of.
For now, I’ll enjoy the rest of my stay at this little, odd town that is Reggio Calabria.