Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Chicken Electrolysis

by Andrew

I spent the week screwing up the courage to get a haircut. This may sound like a trivial chore, but I still carry the emotional scars from the last time I tried to get a trim in a foreign language.

La ultima vez was in Italy, during a semester that I spent in Rome. It was early in the term, and my Italian--which never fully blossomed--was non-existent. In fact, the only words that I had learned came from ordering food at a local rosticceria. Seeking strength in numbers, I dragged my friend Tom with me to the local barbershop, in a residential neighborhood near our convent (yes, we lived in a convent).

We stood on the sidewalk outside, practicing our spiel. We had eaten at the rosticceria enough to know that a half chicken was a mezzo pollo. If we asked for a mezzo, surely the barber would understand that we wanted a simple trim?

With this surefire plan in hand, we marched into the shop. Tom went first (I'm stupid, but not that stupid). He took his seat in the chair and waited as the barber wrapped him in a cloak. When the barber finally looked to him for instruction, Tom pointed at his head and confidently requested a "mezzo pollo."

Tom's first signal that he had committed a fatal error was when he saw me roll off the bench in uncontrollable laughter. And when he realized that he had described his head as a half chicken, he too began to giggle, his head bobbing up and down, making the barber's job all but impossible.

I hesitate to describe the barber as a humorless man, but I suspect that he last laughed during Italy's 22nd post-war government and we were well into the 40s by now. He took our giggling as an insult to Italy, to his manhood, and to his ability as a barber. And he punished us accordingly, giving us haircuts that truly made us look like moulting pollos.

So you can imagine my angst as I prepared to undergo the clippers yet again, this time in Buenos Aires. History must not repeat itself, so I prepared. I studied. Louise has this handy little widget on her computer that acts as a translator. Type in what you want to say and--hey, presto!--it turns it into Spanish. Louise had expressed some doubts about the widget, but I had used it a couple of times with good results.

I typed in "I need a haircut," and received in return "necesito un corte de pelo." It looked good to me, so I pressed on. I entered all the instructions for how I wanted my hair cut, and wrote the translation down on a piece of paper.

Satisfied with my preparations, I went to put on my shoes, leaving my crib sheet on the dining-room table. When I returned, Louise was gasping for air on the couch, laughing much as I had done two decades earlier in Rome.

"Do you realize what you are going to ask the barber?" she wheezed, stabbing at my paper between gusts of laughter. Bemused, I scanned my opus. And there it was: "I want my hair short" had suffered slightly in translation. I had been 10 minutes away from asking to have my head short-circuited.

In a land where depilation and electrolysis rule supreme, I have no doubt that the barber would have strapped me to a gurney, hooked electrodes to my scalp , and removed my last precious follicles. I owe my wife one. Plus, I'm growing my hair out.

1 comment:

Paul Orlando said...

Oh, so that was a picture of Andrew with the panpipes at San Telmo Market.