No matter how much I practiced my Korean, getting my hair cut was still one of the most stressful things in Korea. I'd go in a hair shop with some pre-planned phrases, spit them out, the stylist wouldn't understand anything I said, and then there would be this awkward moment where we'd both just stare at each other. Often times the stylist would ask something like, "Would you like the sides trimmed short or should I leave them long?" to which I'd reply, "Yes."
So I was glad when I came back to the states so I could communicate exactly what I wanted in English. The other day I was getting my car worked on and I thought I'd pop into the barber shop across the street. This wasn't a Great Cuts or a Super Cuts or a Super Great Cuts or whatever those shops are called. This was a true, old school barber shop but I was feeling bold and decided to give it a go.
The older gentleman who ran the establishment instructed me to sit down, asked what I wanted, and then proceeded to do the exact opposite. I said that I'd like the top trimmed down a bit and the guys said, "You know what would look good on you? If I took this down to about a 5." I should explain here that my head and hair is a series of bumps, cowlicks and scars. I have sympathy for anyone who tries to navigate the enigma that is my hair, so I'm not too picky as far as things go.
I gave the barber the go ahead. It was after the fact that I found out that he was ex-military and was determined to make me a commando. I commented on his hair, a silvery mane that sprouted from his head. He then informed me that it was a hairpiece (uh-oh). He said that he'd been shot in the head during 'Nam, had a steel plate in his head, and no hair. At least I got a barber with stories.
And tell stories he did. The only problem is this dude got so worked up, that he'd stop cutting my hair while talking, taking what was already a lengthy process and making it longer. Also, he'd get so worked up that he'd start gesturing wildly with the shaver right by my head. I was afraid that I'd walk out of the shop minus an ear or an eye.
The guy shaved off a sideburn, another alteration I didn't really ask for, then excused himself to go to the bathroom. He came back, got a phone call, argued with the man on the other line for a bit. He then started to clean me up and I had to remind him to shave the other sideburn. At this point I had hair all over my face which the man feebly tried to remove with a ineffective vacuum hose. I just wanted to cut my losses and run.
I returned to the car service center where they didn't recognize me. When I initially came to service center, I was guy with slightly long, unkempt hair. When I returned, I was a military dude with hair all over my face.
I guess we have to be careful what we wish for. In Korea, most of the stylists didn't understand half of what I said, but they tried hard and I generally came out of their establishments looking better. In the states I ran into a dude who spoke the same language as I, but we still didn't understand each other. I came out of his place with tufts of hair springing from my head, with one sideburn longer than the other, and with hair stuck to my face. Just for curiosity's sake, I should go back to that barber, speak to him in Korean, and see what happens.