Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 12.21.11
Stanstead, Quebec


When my barber retires, I'm out of here

Data released this month revealed that more people are leaving Quebec than arriving. This came the same week that the provincial legislature unanimously passed a motion ostensibly discouraging Quebec merchants (read: Montreal merchants) from saying "Bonjour-hi" to customers.

I sense there's a connection.

I'm not saying definitively that people are leaving Quebec because our politicians admit to deliberately setting linguistic traps. But the PQ knows any perceived threat to the French language in Quebec (read: Montreal) is a dog-whistle for nationalists, so cavalierly messing with the social peace certainly doesn't help retain the population.

As for that trap itself, I wish the governing Liberals had introduced a counter-motion demanding that all dog whistles be in French only. That would have been a dog-whistle dog whistle, and everyone leaving the province would have at least done so with a smile on their face.

I have, though, another theory about why people might be leaving Quebec: their hair stylists are retiring.

Naturally, the only data I have to support this theory is my own.

Over the past while, as he has slowly reduced his hours of business, I've come to realize that my barber may soon retire.

So I says, "Just chop away, René..."

I've been going to René almost consistently for the last 15 years or so. I say "almost" because there was a space of about a year when I went elsewhere. She was a friend of my daughter's, just starting out, and I wanted to encourage her. Plus, she was right around the corner and I'm lazy.

I never told René I was seeing other barbers. I get my hair cut quarterly (not just lazy but cheap), so it's possible he never even noticed. But, still, it's a small town, so whenever I bumped into him with a fresh trim, I felt sheepish. Sometimes I looked sheepish.

But the girl closed shop, so I slinked back to René. I just called up one day and said, "Hi, René, it's Ross Murray. I'd like to make an appointment." "I'll see you at 4 PM," he said. And that was it. He's too much of a gentleman to ever mention that period I abandoned him, just like I'm too polite to say anything to friends and co-workers who never show up to my readings, even though in my heart they are dead to me.

I'm happy to be back. "Number 4?" he asks. (I was a Number 4 for years.) "No, I'm liking it shorter these days. Number 3." (Shorter hair means I won't have to go back for four months!) At the end, after I nod my approval in the mirror, with René holding the hand mirror to remind me that the back of my head is funny looking, he'll ask, "Do you want something in it?" Sometimes I'll say yes, if I'm feeling gel-y, sometimes no if I want to let nature take it's course.

One time we tried something called "clay." One time.

René asks after my family, I ask after his. He asks if I'm doing any shows at the Haskell, I ask if he's planning any traveling. We chat.

And this is where things are going to get tricky when René retires.

There are other places willing to cut my hair. But René's English is perfect. My French is not perfect. Whatever is the opposite of perfect, c'est ça.

Years ago, on a whim, I stopped for a haircut in the mall in Magog. A stranger sat me in her chair. She had many different colours in her hair, but I tried not to let that panic me.

"Est-ce que les mouches mangent les cheveux aujourd'hui, monsieur?" she asked me, or something like that, or maybe she was talking to a streak-haired co-worker.

"Oui?" I replied.

"C'est du plastique arbitraire avec des billards supplémentaires," she said, maybe.

"Heh-heh..." I replied. After that, we were quiet. The kind of quiet like a blind date that can't end too soon. The kind of quiet you can cut with thinning shears. Because clearly she was dealing with an imbecile.

I'm an imbecile in French. I'm an imbecile in English too but at least I'm an imbecile loquaciously. In French I'm just dumb and, well, dumb. The prospect of silently, uncomfortably sitting in a chair while someone trims my hair based on the guesswork of my rudimentary French instructions -- that's too much. A haircut without chitchat is a procedure. And how do you say "no clay"?

Consequently, if and when René retires, I will have to leave the province quicker than you can say, "Jean-François Lisée est un gros boob."

Or I suppose I could just move to Montreal, where I could walk into any downtown salon, point at my head and say, "Bonjour -- hair!"