Saturday, January 2, 2010

Communication skills at the hairdresser's 30/10/09

A day of understanding or learning about communication … in Italy, or in Sicily. At the hairdresser’s … in one of the numerous dreadful hair mags and glossies there was an article on communication. It was for owners of hairdressers and dealing with their clients but related to general terms really. How so easily instead of communication we can create a misunderstanding, and how easily it can be remedied if you just say, forse ho capito male, o forse non mi sono spiegato … it is these details of polite discourse that I still haven’t got my tongue around, so important in Italy for the bella figura and to protect the delicate Sicilian anima from offence. Take time, advised the journalist, to think whether your prejudices or preconceived notions have influenced your comment. Ma non hai capito cio che intendevo dire is what is heard most often (‘But you haven’t got what I mean!) It is true even among themselves I think Italians misunderstand each other more than we would. Do you see what I mean? We would say, like their ‘Hai capito?’ But the Italians are quick to jump to the other side of the fence, accusing, ‘you haven’t understood what I meant’.

Having learnt a little bit about how Sicilians operate, I said nothing about being kept waiting about 40 minutes, looking through the mags. Then the nice guy washed my hair. It was full of people getting their hair dyed. I felt very much the foreigner though. Never ever go on a Friday again. I watched Francesco cut a boy’s hair (about 8 years old). He got the best hair cut I ever saw a wee boy get, all chop chop chop, and such care taken, then all the gel and the serum. The guy took it so seriously. And the wee girl getting her hair washed beside me I never saw such a thing. It looked so strange. I’m sure we always just got dry cuts when we were little. These two, Carlotta the girl and the brother got the best treatment; I was watching it in awe. The wanna-be posh call their daughters Carlotta. And the names in the hairdressers, the one who dried my hair, Maria Grazia, what a name, it is after one of the madonnas. Then the other girl was called Donatella. I don’t know how she can be taken seriously. She was quite a nice wee girl though. The beautiful red haired girl didn’t smile once, no greeting at all. The first time I came she had wanted to straighten my (very straight) hair and I had said no thanks, and she’s had it in for me since then.

Anyway, my hairdresser, the owner, chopped off the dry ends, and urged me to go for the caschetto (literally, ‘helmut’ I think it is a kind of page boy look which appears to be fashionable here.) It definitely wouldn’t suit me, especially not the fringe, and it always surprises me that she brings it up, because she seems to know what she is doing otherwise. She was all jokey about doing the caschetto but suddenly serious again and concentrated. It was all about timing and how much time she could give me, I realised. Maybe Friday afternoon was a bad time to ask for her, with all the regulars in getting their roots dyed and expecting her to look after them. I’d say compared to the average Sicilian customer I am very undemanding. She got called away to check how someone’s bleach was progressing and came back to me; I requested it to be a bit more choppy, but she said she would have to do a bit of layering and it might get a bit mushroom-like. It appeared there was no inbetween, it was either the smooth look, which seemed a bit boring, or the more drastic layering up the head. But she then said ok leave it to me I’ll do it a little bit. By this point everyone was staring. Why, I don’t know, it wasn’t such a big deal but the lady next to me was staring away and didn’t even smile or acknowledge me when I looked at her, so I wondered was she waiting. The curly surly red head was doing her hair and she was staring fixedly at my hairdresser so I nodded my head towards them to indicate maybe she should see to her. She was chilled though but this redhead was most impatient. I said ‘sorry I don’t want to steal your time’, as she was obviously keeping an eye on everything going on around her, which wasn’t very relaxing. You have to make very quick decisions which then can be radical for your hair! It was all too hot. Anyway she seemed to relax, just telling the girls to do what ever needed done, then took the straighteners to do a few loose curls. I was delighted and said so, and asked her was she tired, she’d looked a bit frazzled for a minute being so much in demand. She was all pleased, assured me she wasn’t a bit tired, and offered me a coffee. How the slightest little comment gets you so far in Sicily. Just asking her was she tired she softened. And when I apologized for using up her time, the effect was that she gave me more time and did the cool curls. At the end I said I’ll come back in a midweek slot next time and apologized for the extra time it took to explain what she was going to do; she was perfectly mollified and gracious.

That’s how to be with the Sicilians.


Lola

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