I went to the barbers on Saturday. After I told him what I wanted, the conversation went like this:
Barber: Are you into football?
Barber: Do you have any hobbies?
Me: Not really
Barber: You just work and go home? *laughing*
Me: Pretty much
This was mostly true. Other than writing this blog, I do not have any 'hobbies' as such. Does anyone? There is something insular and unusual about having conversation-ready hobbies. The word brings to mind slightly shameful pass-times like stamp collecting, amateur dramatics, or dogging. In any case, why would I want to discuss my leisure activities with a barber? He might have been holding a pair of scissors, but he was still a stranger. I don't understand - were we supposed to strike up a friendship in that downbeat house of hair? What exactly was the deal?
I have never understood barber etiquette. As I see it, a trip to the barber's is a professional situation - a business transaction, nothing more. I am a man who wants his hair cut. The barber is the man to do it. As long as we are both polite in our dealings, the encounter need not lead to friendship. Seriously, I am fine with chair-bound silence. Yet, most barbers feel that forced chatter is somehow a vital part of the experience. There must be a reason for this. It could be that barbershops are filled with lonely patrons in need of company, that for some the barber's chair is a seat of solace and reassurance. This could be the case, but I doubt it.
Barbers bother you with small talk because they think this is what barbers are meant to do. I would love to know who started this. There must a master hairdressing school somewhere promulgating this nonsense. A hairy HQ where wizened Sweeny Todd types set the cutting curriculum. The blueprint they produce would of course be compulsory for all UK hairdressing colleges. First year: cutting and styling skills. Second year: banal chit-chat. But of course they aren't all like this. The best barbers leave you alone. They ask how you are then tailor their chatter accordingly. Grumble yeah, not bad, mate and they ease off. This dour response can actually be useful - for both of you. He is relieved of his duty to engage in mundane chat. And you are awarded a moment's respite. A fine barber-friend once shared his take on chitchat: if they don't talk - I just cut their hair. This sounds more than reasonable - so why don't more barbers hold this view?
I think it is simply a question of manners. When thrown together with strangers it seems only polite to initiate small talk. In Britain we've been conditioned to believe all silence is grim, unpleasant even. We almost always feel compelled to fill the space with gentle chitter-chatter. I understand - we are only trying our best. Like Twitter outrage or supporting Corbyn - it the kind of madness that comes from a good place.
We use small talk to put people at ease. I get it, however, I would argue the reverse is also true. For some, forced chat is excruciating - a form of slow head-screwing torture. And so unnecessary. As I see it having your barnet trimmed in contemplative silence can be a relaxing experience. A great many of us genuinely enjoy watching our reflections in silence. There is nothing weird or awkward about sitting in a chair, minding your own business. The nation's barbers need to know this. Honestly, it really is ok to be quiet.
Barber-friends, please don't think of us as mere heads to be hacked, we are human beings too. Yes, I know what you're up against. In these austere times you have to outrun your rivals. That is understandable. But balling us out with drab discussion is not the way to do it. If you are looking to secure repeat business, all you need to do is cut our hair well. Still, it's ok, we know you're only trying your best - and for that, we cannot fault you. As for us, we are only trying to help. Please believe us when we say it really is possible for us to enjoy the silence together. Thank you. Godspeed. And goodnight.