Tab Guide to making small talk with your hairdresser

HARRIET HALL gives sage advice about surviving your trip for a trim.

Cambridge haircut

Oh small talk, how we hate you.

The words you speak are irrelevant and meaningless. Deep down, you know that neither wants to have the conversation but you both feel that you have to, otherwise the silence would stretch out as endlessly as those awkward supervision pauses.

Students cannot escape the small talk challenge. When you’re at the hairdresser’s the pressure is at its greatest: you’re trapped and there’s no choice but to make conversation – unless you want to leave with a half-cut resembling Cruella De Vil.

I don’t know, she looks pretty louche to me


The Germans don’t even have a word for small talk – taxis, barbers and supermarket checkouts are filled with a stony yet comfortable silence. The struggle is one the British seem to face alone.

We’re stuck in an endless cycle of awkward encounters and it’s pretty impossible for us to interact in silence with another human without constantly laugh-snorting or feeling like your head will explode from the tension. You may be more comfortable hiding your poor chat game behind that blaring Cindies pop, but unless you want to look like a caveman you’ll have to face the music sometime.

“I can’t really see you and I can’t hear what you’re saying”: classic chat up line

So here are a few top tips to get you started the next time you’re in the hot seat:

Draw out the pleasantries

This is the easy bit, even for the downright socially inept. Ask them how they are – don’t piss them off; your appearance for the next few weeks is in their hands, after all.

With great power…

Go for the classic

Luckily for us Brits, we have a not-so-secret weapon in the small talk department – the weather. It always changes, so why not make a needless comment about how you hate ‘that type of rain’ to get the ball rolling? (You may hate yourself, but it can’t be worse than silence right?).

“Oooh the snow is lovely isn’t it? Have you seen all the willies those naughty Johnians have made in it?”


Bring in your holiday plans

Just don’t show off. Yes, you may be planning a ‘gap summer’ making crafts with orphans in Cambodia, or accompanying Daddy on an all-expenses-paid trip to LA, but keep it humble. Maybe the accomplished small-talker could even throw a curve ball and ask them about their holidays.

Keep it trivial

Beware: Cambridge is toy town, and hairdressers are a social hub. These guys probably know your boyfriend is cheating before you do. You may want to try for a more meaningful conversation to escape the excruciating pain of small talk, but don’t be fooled.

If you let your guard slip and disclose something they don’t have jotted down in their mental gossip bank it will reach all corners of the city before you’ve taken two steps out the door – and probably have already featured on the local tabloid.

Conversations about high art probably won’t work either.

Don’t ask when the baby’s due. Even if you could roll her. Don’t do it. 

Control your body language

Don’t squint at their reflection – this is threatening. Eye-rolling should be eschewed. Head-nodding should also be limited, unless you enjoy the risk of decapitation. Head-shaking should be employed only as a gesture of sympathy and when the scissors are nowhere near your eyeballs.

Just keep smiling

Yes, the back of a head can’t look that inspiring and seeing as we don’t walk up to people or have conversations facing backwards there’s no need to worry all that much. BUT SMILE.  Pretend to like the haircut and leave with a fixed grimace even if you’ve just seen your final reflection and felt a part of yourself die.


So, ultimately, you and your hairdresser should be able to part after an hour of cut-and-colour knowing nothing significant about each other, but for you both to have had the most amazing time chatting. That’s the real skill; a true sign you’ve conquered the small talk.

So next time you’re due for a trim, take heed, go forth and make awkward Brits everywhere proud.