Pandemic Diaries: "I went to the barber during coronavirus lockdown and the haircut feels better than ever"
When the gloved hand touches my skin I get a rush that I haven’t felt in months. It feels naughty. Wrong. Verboten. It’s my first trip to a barbershop here in Dubai since March and it’s long overdue.
Although there’s still a social stigma around leaving the house, not to mention my own health reservations, with my once-glorious mane now looking more Marvin from Home Alone than Mufasa from the Lion King, I have masked-up and taken the first tentative steps beyond my front door.
It’s not a decision I’ve taken lightly, to venture out into a mid-pandemic world, but ultimately it is out of my hands. My partner has been unable to get within six feet of me for two months, not because of social distancing, but because of my unruly beard, and she has made the appointment for me.
I do protest. “Who do I have to look good for? I haven’t seen another human in weeks!” A glare tells me that looking good for her should be enough of a reason. I jot this down in my notes as I’m sure it will come up again.
Truthfully though, I’m as excited as I am nervous. For men, the barbershop visit is a ritual. A biweekly chance to sink into a comfortable chair and shoot the breeze with a guy who knows more about my dreams and ambitions than my own family, and yet I’m not even sure of his last name. To me he’s just Steve, no more is needed.
But things have changed. Will the experience be the same? Barbershops are about the camaraderie, the closeness. How can that be replicated during social distancing?
As a former writer of a men’s hair magazine - yes, that’s a thing - I’ve set foot in more barbershops than most, and there’s no doubt this ‘new normal’ is jarring.
Gone is the bench packed with four guys huddled together as they wait for their preferred coiffeur, chatting like old friends about football, cars, and women - the classics. Instead, the appointment-only system means you are plonked in front of your stylist before you have a chance to get your bearings. For the time-sensitive, it’s a win, for the traditionalists, it’s a shame.
But I have to say, despite the masks and gloves being worn by both parties, once you’re settled in your regular seat in front of the mirror, you quickly relax into your familiar role.
The chat is the same, the haircut feels better than ever, and frankly, Steve is a bit of a spitter when he speaks so his mask is a net-positive.
45 minutes after arriving I am a new man. As Steve holds up the mirror behind my head, and I nod my approval without actually checking anything, it almost feels pre-pandemic.
Is it exactly the same as before? No, but will anything ever be again? Probably not.
So take the leap and head to your local barber. It might feel wrong, but you’ll look so right.
Pandemic Diaries is a weekly column that delves into the new normal of life in Dubai. Have a pitch for us? Send it to Esquire Middle East's Online Editor.