I've always thought that if I ever decide to change careers, I would like to be a freelance interpreter. I have a friend who does this job and she has interpreted everywhere from at meetings about politics with the German chancellor to meetings about tractors in fields with two farmers. Every so often here in Milan, I find myself acting as somebody's informal interpreter and never is it more stressful than when Mr A decides that he needs a haircut.
The first time we went, he ended up more or less with a shorter version of his previous haircut, but he wasn't too impressed with his experience in a mixed salon, so this time we went to a proper barber's shop. You could tell it was a proper barber's shop because it was furnished with an ancient leather sofa, lots of wooden furniture and two of those chairs that hold you up off the ground and make you feel like a six year old again. All over the shop there were “no smoking” signs and yet the place reeked of cigarettes, and the barber himself was impressively portly and disconcertingly bald. An old man who was waiting for a shave kindly let Mr A go first, probably because he sensed the potential entertainment in the situation.
Mr A sat down in the chair and I explained what he wanted. (“Like this but shorter and take a bit more off the back.”) The barber got to work and began to chat to us about where we were from, whether we liked Italy etc. After hearing that we were British, he pointed out a wobble in Mr A's fringe and said, “The last time you had a haircut, was it in England or Italy?” When we replied that it had been in Italy, he said, “And was the hairdresser Italian or Chinese?” Despite the fact that we said that he had been Italian, the barber then insisted that he was going to give Mr A “a proper Italian haircut.”
And to give him his due, he did. He got out a comb that looked none too clean, combed Mr A's hair and then proceeded to give him a haircut that was very short, but perfectly done, with the hair perfectly trimmed and shaped around the ears. For a man's haircut, it took a long time. Or maybe it just felt like that because I was watching the hair get shorter and shorter, and Mr A's voice was getting quieter and quieter and I was terrified that he didn't like it and that this was somehow all my fault for not explaining properly. At the same time, however, I was carrying on a conversation with the barber about how good the food was in Puglia and all the places in Italy that we had visited. He finished the whole thing off with a cut-throat razor, repeatedly saying “ferma, ferma!” (“stay still, stay still!”), which Mr A appeared to understand without my help.
Then it was time for the moment of truth. Mr A stood up and, as the barber disappeared into the back shop, I asked Mr A, “Do you like it?” To my huge relief, he smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Yes.” Then the barber reappeared and before we could pay him and leave, the old man who was watching insisted that I gave him a kiss. Not that I objected to that, because with his short, “proper Italian” haircut, Mr A looked very like a star from a very old but classic movie. And luckily, when we got home, a bit of gel brought his look back into the 21st century and the interpreter didn't get the sack.