I had a long overdue haircut today. I put off haircuts even in English speaking countries, and this was only the second time I’ve braved a haircut in Norway. I decided to go to a drop-in place, because I really couldn’t be bothered going there to make an appointment and then coming back in a fortnights time if I was lucky. (A curse on full-time work. And on Norway, which shuts up shop around four on weekdays, two on Saturday, and remains closed completely on Sundays. Also I can’t just make a phone call to book a haircut, because my Norwegian’s not good enough.) Anyway, the drop-in places are all run by immigrants, who speak Norwegian but not very much English. They are half the price of the places run by Norwegian Norwegians, but although Michael’s been going to one without incident for three years, until now I really didn’t like the idea of not being able to communicate verbally with my hairdresser!
So today I went to one on a tired side street near the harbour. It was a husband and wife team. A small boy played a hand-held computer game on the sofa. An old man sat on an armchair with an even smaller boy on his lap, speaking in some Arabic language with the owners.
‘Do you speak English?’ I asked hopefully.
‘A little’, said the man. ‘You want a haircut? You can just wait.’
So I sat on the sofa next to the boy while the woman finished up another client. She cut women’s hair; her husband cut the men’s hair. I was feeling a little sorry for myself, and a long way from home, and fed up with this slow Norwegian spring which refuses to warm up much beyond ten degrees, and tipped snow and hail all over us a couple of days ago.
‘Where are you from?’ the man asked.
‘Australia.’ I said. ‘A long way away.’
‘Do you like it here?’
‘Sometimes’, I said. ‘It’s a bit cold.’
He asked me how long I’d been here, and what I did, and why I was here. And then he asked how I’d managed to get my job, and he said it sounded like a very good thing. He asked if my family were here, or all far away. His English wasn’t very good, and his wife didn’t speak any English at all. But it was strangely comforting to be among foreigners.
‘Are you Norwegian?’ I said, ‘Or – where do you come from?’
‘I am Norwegian,’ he said, ‘I’ve been here fifteen years. But I am also from Iraq.’
‘Do you like it here?’
‘No,’ he said, ‘I don’t like it. I want to go home.’