The hairdresser grasped my hand warmly. “You must come and have coffee any day, we’ll talk in Portuguese – you understand?” I think that’s what she was saying, but then my Portuguese is still terrible so I did indeed struggle to understand, which is clearly why she was suggesting some practise. Had my Portuguese not been so poor I would have asked her to put my nine year old son back in the chair and re-cut his hair.
This weekend we had been due to go to Castelo Branco, a three hour journey but one which assured us of a good hair cut at the end of it. However, Zed had to hit an edit deadline for a Giorgio Armani thing, so I took my son to the village hairdressers instead. His hair was getting so long I worried that, along with the bullying for just being the new boy, he would start being bullied for looking like a girl.
We went down the stone steps of an inconspicuous house and into a pleasant, standard hairdressing salon with chairs around the edge and a middle aged woman having a cut and blow dry. We flicked through hairdressing catalogues while waiting and spotted some pictures of boys with cute cuts. The choice was of course short, shorter or a sort of bowl cut, which I remember being keen on giving him myself when he was three. I thought it looked chic and French and the rest of the family thought it looked like I’d stuck a bowl on his head and cut round. So this time I avoided the bowl cut look and pointed to a fairly middling pic of boy with fringe. How could that go wrong?
Should have known better. The first time I ever asked a hairdresser to give me a haircut from a picture was the last time. I was about nineteen and remember freezing with horror in the chair as I saw her snip a short fringe in one side and realised the other side would be the same, and that as she chopped the sides shorter and shorter it wasn’t going to suit me. I looked of course, nothing like the chic model in the photo, just a short haired mess in bright pink lipstick. That evening I put on a brave face to meet a fairly new boyfriend who was expecting a girl with long, tumbling backcombed (it was the ’80s) locks. It was the last date we had. I put it down to the haircut. Never again would I point to a picture in a hair catalogue.
Now I was doing this to my son. Pointing to a picture in a hair catalogue. In England I would have said something like “just cut off a few inches so it’s short,” or “similar to yours please,” or “just tidy it up a bit” and they would know what I meant. He would emerge looking like a boy with short hair. I didn’t know enough Portuguese for any of those phrases to work.
The thing is, he did indeed emerge looking like the model in the photo, coiffed and pretty and delicate, when what his really hair needed to be was a boyish, short haired mess.