The Meanderthals

Snips and Stripes, Italian style

I’ve always been a sucker for friendly service and a smile. So, when I went in search of a hairdresser in San Casciano, I decided Paolo was the man for me.

Why did I pick him? Because he’d been recommended? Because I’d read about his incredible hairdressing expertise?

No. It was because I popped in one day and he had a great smile, twinkling eyes and a warm manner.

There was just one small complication. He (nor anyone else in the parrucchiere) spoke a word of English.

Since my repertoire of Italian consists of about 15 words (none of them hair-related and most of them to do with food), I figured I’d be in for an experience.

Paolo and his team

Before my appointment, though, I did a little homework. Three months ago, Skip and I met a young woman in Phnom Penh who became a Facebook friend. Last week, I got a note from Steph telling me she’d spent time in Italy and had a good command of the language if I needed help. So I asked her how to talk to Paolo.

Tell him this, she said: “Voglio dare forma ai miei capelli, un po di volume, non li voglio troppo corti, voglio I scalati” (literally translated, I want to give shape to my hair, a little volume, I don’t want it too short, I want layers”).

Armed with my piece of paper, I sat down in the salon this afternoon and read the words out loud. Everyone smiled and nodded. Then they read the paper as well.


They seemed to get it but I realised I’d never learned how to request highlights. “Colore” is a fairly international word but the colourist with the bushy hair, plum lipstick and navy nail polish didn’t ask what colour I wanted when she set to work with her paintbrush, bleach and enough foil to cover a large turkey. You can pop over to these guys for the best options on nail colours.

She tossed around lots of Italian phrases and flung out a couple of English ones. “White” and “mesh” were two of them. Not having a clue what she was saying, I smiled and nodded and pointed to a picture in a business magazine of an elderly plump woman with sun streaked hair and hoped she’d get the message: Sun-streaked. Natural. Not too much blonde.

I recalled seeing plenty of Italian women walking around town with fire-engine red hair. What if navy nails thought I wanted to look like them? What if the translation (provided, I may add, by someone I barely know) said “I want to look like Lucille Ball so please perm my hair and dye it red”)?

It’s one of the challenges of being on the road: finding a good hairdresser when you need one. It’s probably the female equivalent of Skip handing over his prized Litespeed bicycle to a Turkish mechanic who works on Harleys.

But I sat back and relaxed with my espresso while navy nails set to work, all the while chattering in loud Italian to Paolo and anyone else in the salon who wanted to talk.

There were lots of tuttis and fattis and questos echoing around the room. There were even a couple of travoltas. (Travolta?) Quite likely most of the chatter was about the British woman, sitting in the chair without a clue what was going on.

Two hours later, the foil came off and the colour was exposed. Navy nails was very excited about the end result. I saw yellow and black stripes.

I resisted the impulse to laugh. Instead of blonde, it was yellow. And the “second colour” was darker than my natural shade. It all looked rather streaky and bright. Not quite the sun-splashed natural look I’d been hoping for. But navy nails was happy so I waited for Paolo to cut my hair, blow dry it into a stylish Italian bob (would that be a roberto?)and smile some more, then headed out into the Spring sunshine.

The finished product

The finished product

Now that it’s dry, styled and settled, the colour doesn’t look so yellow any more. Skip says it’s one of the best haircuts I’ve ever had and I’m happy to live with it till the next time I need to find a hairdresser.

Since our next stop is Serbia, I’ve already learned the word for haircut. It’s фризура. Now if only I can figure out how to say it.

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