Originally Posted by globetrotter
I tried to get a japanese barber to cut my hair once. the look on his face suggested that I had asked him to wipe my ass. that may not have been the common reaction, though, I was too mortified to try another barber.
The Japanese have an unfortunate tendency to freeze up in the presence of a foreigner, particularly where the language barrier comes into play. Just as you were too mortified to try another barber, he was probably mortified that he couldn't communicate with you and thereby make sure you were completely satisfied. One thing the Japanese are careful to do is confirm every request or every step of a process. In the case of a haircut, this is particularly important, as the possibility of dissatisfaction is very great. Japanese is a rather oblique language and also tends to be quite vague. There's a particular psychology to communicating in Japanese that involves a lot of apologizing and saying "please" and "thank you." It becomes rather bloated with ceremonial embellishments. A typical conversation might go as follows: "I'm terribly sorry to bother you when you're so busy, but could you possibly see fit to cut my hair. If it's not to much trouble, please be so good as to just give me a trim." "I don't mean to interrupt, but would you care to have it cut if over your ears?" "Yes, I'd very much appreciate it if you could do that for me." "And with regard to the back, would you prefer that I cut it square or perhaps tapered?" "Well, you're the barber, so ultimately I would leave it to your discretion, but usually I get it cut tapered." "Very well. You would like me to trim you hair over the ears and taper the back. Have I understood you correctly?" "Yes, I believe you've understood correctly." "Very well, then. Shall we proceed?" "Yes, let's." And so it goes. While this is somewhat exaggerated for effect, it is not all that far from how Japanese often comes off.