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Word of the day: kapper (hairdresser, barber)

Shaving and hairdressing are unnatural acts. Nature never intended humans to mutilate their hairy extensions. Young children love bearded men. I know this because I have a beard and whenever I travel by tram babies and toddlers look at me as if I am Sinterklaas or some other divine authority. The only reason why I pay someone to make me less wild and hairy, is because my head will itch like crazy.


So every seven weeks, for over twenty years now, I cycle to a small barbershop in a narrow street in Rijswijk to have my hair done and my beard and moustache trimmed. In the first ten years or so my hair was mostly blonde and now all these millions of hairs have turned grey and white. How frustrating these visits! My regular visits are a dire necessity.

My hairdresser is called Mr Fonhof. We have short conversations about the progression of our lives, but very often we don’t speak at all. I never call him by his first name, even though I know it is Frans, and I also try to avoid addressing him with a personal pronoun. After all those years ‘U’ sounds too formal, and ‘jij’ and ‘je’ still feels uncomfortable.

When he is snipping his scissors, I know my locks will fall to the floor. To avoid seeing this mutilation, I usually keep my eyes closed. Or I look around. Sometimes I focus on the ancient hairdresser’s diploma which has a date in the fifties, but if you ask me what the exact text is, I have not got a clue. All I remember is that he passed.

Last Friday morning KAPPER Fonhof told me that next October the first he will have been in business for 51 years. He also told me he has been working as a professional HERENKAPPER since his 14th year. He is a genuine Hagenaar even though he moved to Rijswijk half a century ago.

Mr Fonhof is one of the few true HERENKAPPERS still in business. He is sadly aware that his honourable profession is vanishing. The old barber college that he attended in the fifties (‘the best school for barbers in the Netherlands’, he said with pride) in the Bakkerstraat does not exist anymore. All hairdressing schools are for ladies and gents hairdressers.

A HERENKAPPER cannot be compared to a DAMESKAPPER, is Fonhof’s stern conviction. Ladies’ hair needs to be treated with a different touch. For when a ladies’ hairdresser does a man’s hair, she usually resorts to all kinds of fads and fancies like a little tail at the back of the head or complete baldness. Ladies should be hairdressed by women and gents by barbers. So Mr Fonhof says, and I believe him for I have entrusted my hair to his skilful hands for so many years now.

KAPPEN (to do one’s hair) is a true Dutch word going back to the 18th century. Originally the verb referred to the habit of women to put on an elegant cap. But very quickly it also meant ‘dressing one’s hair’. A KAPPER used to be called a BARBIER (barber). The English and Dutch word refer to the French word ‘barbe’ meaning beard. A barber shaved a man’s beard.