When my barber retires, I’m out of here

Data released this month revealed that more people are leaving Quebec than arriving. This came the same week that the provincial legislature unanimously passed a motion ostensibly discouraging Quebec merchants (read: Montreal merchants) from saying “Bonjour-hi” to customers.

I sense there’s a connection.

I’m not saying definitively that people are leaving Quebec because our politicians admit to deliberately setting linguistic traps. But the PQ knows any perceived threat to the French language in Quebec (read: Montreal) is a dog-whistle for nationalists, so cavalierly messing with the social peace certainly doesn’t help retain the population.

As for that trap itself, I wish the governing Liberals had introduced a counter-motion demanding that all dog whistles be in French only. That would have been a dog-whistle dog whistle, and everyone leaving the province would have at least done so with a smile on their face.

I have, though, another theory about why people might be leaving Quebec: their hair stylists are retiring.

Naturally, the only data I have to support this theory is my own.

Over the past while, as he has slowly reduced his hours of business, I’ve come to realize that my barber may soon retire.

So I says, “Just chop away, René…”

I’ve been going to René almost consistently for the last 15 years or so. I say “almost” because there was a space of about a year when I went elsewhere. She was a friend of my daughter’s, just starting out, and I wanted to encourage her. Plus, she was right around the corner and I’m lazy.

I never told René I was seeing other barbers. I get my hair cut quarterly (not just lazy but cheap), so it’s possible he never even noticed. But, still, it’s a small town, so whenever I bumped into him with a fresh trim, I felt sheepish. Sometimes I looked sheepish.

But the girl closed shop, so I slinked back to René. I just called up one day and said, “Hi, René, it’s Ross Murray. I’d like to make an appointment.” “I’ll see you at 4:00,” he said. And that was it. He’s too much of a gentleman to ever mention that period I abandoned him, just like I’m too polite to say anything to friends and co-workers who never show up to my readings, even though in my heart they are dead to me.

I’m happy to be back. “Number 4?” he asks. (I was a Number 4 for years.) “No, I’m liking it shorter these days. Number 3.” (Shorter hair means I won’t have to go back for four months!) At the end, after I nod my approval in the mirror, with René holding the hand mirror to remind me that the back of my head is funny looking, he’ll ask, “Do you want something in it?” Sometimes I’ll say yes, if I’m feeling gel-y, sometimes no if I want to let nature take it’s course.

One time we tried something called “clay.” One time.

René asks after my family, I ask after his. He asks if I’m doing any shows at the Haskell, I ask if he’s planning any traveling. We chat.

And this is where things are going to get tricky when René retires.

There are other places willing to cut my hair. But René’s English is perfect. My French is not perfect. Whatever is the opposite of perfect, c’est ça.

Years ago, on a whim, I stopped for a haircut in the mall in Magog. A stranger sat me in her chair. She had many different colours in her hair, but I tried not to let that panic me.

Est-ce que les mouches mangent les cheveux aujourd’hui, monsieur?” she asked me, or something like that, or maybe she was talking to a streak-haired co-worker.

Oui?” I replied.

C’est du plastique arbitraire avec des billards supplémentaires,” she said, maybe.

“Heh-heh…” I replied.

After that, we were quiet. The kind of quiet like a blind date that can’t end too soon. The kind of quiet you can cut with thinning shears. Because clearly she was dealing with an imbecile.

I’m an imbecile in French. I’m an imbecile in English too but at least I’m an imbecile loquaciously. In French I’m just dumb and, well, dumb. The prospect of silently, uncomfortably sitting in a chair while someone trims my hair based on the guesswork of my rudimentary French instructions – that’s too much. A haircut without chitchat is a procedure. And how do you say “no clay”?

Consequently, if and when René retires, I will have to leave the province quicker than you can say, “Jean-François Lisée est un gros boob.”

Or I suppose I could just move to Montreal, where I could walk into any downtown salon, point at my head and say, “Bonjour – hair!”

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About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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18 Responses to When my barber retires, I’m out of here

  1. Just chop away, Rene? Pretty funny!

    Somehow I’m thinking that your French is not that bad. But you can do what lots of people do instead of chat – just read your phone.

  2. ksbeth says:

    can you research important hair phrases and requests prior to your visit? throw in a random compliment as well. use a cheat sheet if need be – oops, i’m a teacher

  3. Have you tried interpretive dance? Speak visually of your desire for short on the sides. Most barbers instinctively appreciate philosophical aesthetics like this, but for pete’s sake, remember you’re not van Gogh, stop moving once the scissors come out, you could lose an ear or something. And keep the darn scarves & veils & such tucked away, nobody likes pulling shredded silk out their electric clippers.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      The girl I mentioned did actually clip my ear one time. Eek!
      Here’s a question: you tip hair people, sure, but what if they’re also the owners?

      • You tip them regardless, or, I’ve heard, they’ll clip your ear.
        My barber is a great old guy, he’s cut my hair my whole life, and he’s just the nicest guy you’d ever meet. I can get you in, if you give me a couple day’s warning.
        Mostly I understand him, despite a strong fishing accent, heavily inflected with bowling. He grows tomatoes in his shop’s front window, year-round.

  4. pinklightsabre says:

    The plastiques arbitraires line sounds fishy, I can relate, I can hear her: we’re in France, now. It’s messy. We’re pretending we’re Germans trying to speak French which seems a better idea than being Americans. When has that ever happened, that it’s preferable to be American over German, in France?

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I think you wrote that backwards but in my head I read it the right way and laughed. Language and comprehension are weird.
      My French phrases are essentially random words.

  5. pinklightsabre says:

    I mean preferable to be German over American. God, no coffee in our rental and we have to go out for it..sheesh.

  6. What is the penalty for saying “Bonjur-hi?” What can they do? Aren’t politicians the worst?

    I bagged off a barber for several months once. The next time I went back, I sat in his chair and the first thing he said to me was, “Who fucked up your hair?” And do you know what?! He was right!

    Are you really four months between haircuts?! That’s astonishing. Do you take super-slow motion growth hormones.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      No, my hair just gets really long. “Writerly,” someone once called it, which is as close to someone flirting with me as I get. And it’s only every three months or so.
      The Bonjour-Hi thing was purely provocative and ultimately meaningless. It was a motion, not legislation. It was indeed instigated to make the governing Liberals look soft on French, which is our equivalent of being soft on crime. It’s a stupid, stupid province sometimes. The word “provincial” has dual meaning here. But, hey, it’s home.

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