A Haircut and the First Time I Experienced Culture Shock

I was new to London and in need of a haircut. So, I thought I’d just walk around and find somewhere nearby. Little did I know I was about to step into a completely different culture.

I asked a man on the street where I could get the job done. He politely pointed me up the road, “There on the left. Go up the stairs.”

I climbed the narrow stairway and opened the door. It was as if I stepped through C.S. Lewis’ wardrobe, but instead of finding myself in Narnia I had been transported to an unknown Afro-Caribbean territory.


All eyes on the white guy.

“What ya look’n for?”


“A haircut”

Awkward silence.

“Well take a seat der.”

That was it. I was committed. I should have just made my apologies and left, but it was too awkward. I found myself moving toward the chair like a mosquito toward a well-lit bug zapper.

As I sat I became more aware of the music blazing through one of those massive, deep-as-they-are-wide, 90’s television sets. The room was swallowed by the sound of Afro-Caribbean hip hop, which included the occasional sounding of a bullhorn.

I tried to study the man cutting hair. He seemed proficient enough, but I suspected that that was subject-dependant.


I swallowed and stood up.

Be a man.

I crossed the small room and began to feel more and more anxious. I approached the chair. Our eyes met. What was communicated in that moment transcended culture. We both knew we were in over our head. We both knew this was a maiden voyage.

He invited me to sit down.

“How do ya want it cut?”

“Oh, you know…” Of course he didn’t know. “Shorter on the sides. About this much off the top.”

He nodded and picked up his clippers.

Oh God.

I was freaking out. Feeling panicked. I couldn’t tell you why, but that’s the thing about culture shock.

He turned the clippers upside-down and began shaving down the side of my head. That was new.

Take it easy. He knows what he’s doing.

I was watching his face contort with confusion as he fumbled with my straw- like, foreign hair.

His arm shot into the air, clippers in hand. It hung in mid-air for a nanosecond too long. It was just enough time for his second guessing to be on full display.


The clippers came down squarely on top of my head, removing a patch from the center of my dome like those alien-made crop circles cut into wheat fields.

With the soprano tones of a prepubescent boy, I shrieked.

“Oooookay!! It, uhhh, looks good!”


“Yeah. Good. I like it.”

For some reason I started speaking to him as if he no longer spoke English.

“I. Like. It.” Ummm “All. Finish.”

Idiot! You’re probably offending him!

He took the hint and indicated that he would finish up. He pulled out a straight edge. I nearly crapped my pants.

Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.

He began to spray my neck with something that smelled like urine.

Oh God, this is some sort of ritual cleansing! He’s spreading his pee on you before he sacrifices you!

He raised the blade up and brought it to my neck. I winced. He slid it down behind my ear, removing hair as he moved the edge over the urine spray. A few more passes, around my hairline and back up behind my other ear.

He patted my neck with a towel and was finished. I stood up, paid, mumbled something about keeping the change and made straight for the door.

As I pulled the door shut behind me, order began to restore itself. The anxiety in my chest felt some reprieve with each step I took down the stairway.

I imagine Dorothy felt this way when she awoke from her dream in the Wizard of Oz.

I guess I should get my hair fixed.

I walked up to a man and asked if he knew where I could go…

Title Photo Credit: flickr
Photo Credit: flickr