THE LONGER YOU TRAVEL, the longer your hair grows. Bangs in eyes, hair creeping dangerously close to a mullet. Now you’re south of the border, and things are bad. You need a corte de pelo. Below is some essential vocab to keeping your hair-related tragedies to a minimum.
Getting into the salon
Many peluquerías charge different prices, varying depending on if it’s a corte varon/hombre (men’s haircut) or corte dama/mujer (women’s haircut). A woman’s hair length will also change the price, with long hair costing the most. Corto/mediano/largo is short/medium/long.
I’m assuming you’re just going to walk in and ask to get your hair cut right then and there, and not ask to make an appointment. You’ve gotten up your nerve to cut your hair in a language you don’t speak. Any further obstacle will slow you down. But if you must make an appointment, ask for an hora or a cita.
I’m also assuming you know the difference between cuanto (how much, how many) and cuando (when). So just go on in, wait for someone to look at you, and say: Quiero cortarme el pelo. I want a haircut.
Want it washed? You want a lavado. Or do you want it sin lavar (without washing)? If you want your hair cut wet you’ll tell them you want a corte de pelo con el pelo mojado/humedo.
Then the fun begins. Your hair is washed (or not), and you’re wearing that silly polyester cape. You’ve sat down in the chair and gotten pumped up or let down to the right height so the peluquero (hair stylist) can take out his tijeras (scissors) and have at you.
Showing how much
The first thing to remember is that generally, in Latin America, we don’t show the amount of hair we’d like cut by holding our thumb and forefinger a certain distance apart. Instead, hold your hand in front of you, with your palm facing in, and show the number of “fingers” (measure of length) you want to cut. Bonus: If it’s one or two fingers, you now have an imaginary gun. Careful with that.
Here are some more core terms you’ll need to make sure you come out of the shop with a peinado (hairstyle) vaguely like you’d intended.
And many of the descriptors that have to do with getting your hair cut refer to where on your face/body you want it to be level with. Here are some haircut-relevant parts.
And if you’ve decided that it’s all just too much to bear, and you’d rather DIY it, here’s what you’ll need, at a minimum.
And a whole lot of suerte (luck).
If it all turns tragic, and you’d like a song to sing (in Spanish) for the occasion, may I suggest this one from the Chilean television program 31 Minutos. It’s called “Me Cortaron Mal El Pelo” (I got a bad haircut).
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Eileen Smith is the editor of Matador Abroad. She's an ex-Brooklynite who's made a life in Santiago, Chile. She's a fluent Spanish speaker who can be found biking, hiking, writing, photographing and/or seeking good coffee and nibbles at most hours of the day. She blogs here.
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