I was talking to my Lithuanian hairdresser the other day and he asked me straight out a question I wasn’t expecting, “do you go to church”?
This, it is fair to say, is a very very unusual question from a hairdresser. From a hairdresser you expect the following kinds of questions:
“Enjoying (or, perhaps more usually, what about this) weather we’ve been having?”
“Going anywhere nice on your holidays?”
“Something for the weekend sir?”
Or if they are particularly feeling risqué, “how long would you like your hair to be at the end of this haircut”?
They are certainly not supposed to ask you anything that sounds remotely like religion or politics. And this question sounded very much like it fell into the first of these categories.
Actually it turned out that he was merely trying to figure out something to talk to me about after I had casually admitted that I hadn’t “seen the big game” which happened to be the world cup. Actually that’s another rich vein of conversation in hairdressers but it’s one that passes me by so I didn’t include it above.*
He had by this point found out that my family is from Russia and was literally wondering if this would mean that we might go to the same church which is, perhaps a different question. I had to tragically disappoint the poor lad by revealing that I don’t go and therefore would see him there. His face dropped and he looked despondent until he remembered a funny story which he then told me.
He was telling me about the very first occasion that he had arrived in the country and after a short time had decided that he’d like to go to church (I suppose to catch up on what God had been up to in the intervening weeks).
He didn’t know where the local Russian orthodox church would be so he decided that the simplest way would be to go into a British church and ask them where it was. So that is what he did. He strolled up to some Anglican church and asked them “where is the nearest Russian Orthodox church?” and the vicar said, “it’s in any small garden” which our hairdresser thought might be a bit deep. It sounded he said like one of those Buddhist things. Like he was saying God is all around us.
But he didn’t want any of this theoretical stuff he wanted to actually go to church so he decided to go to a different Anglican church and a different vicar and ask him instead. And so he asked the vicar and the vicar replied that the Russian Orthodox church was “in any small garden”.
At this point our man decided he wasn’t going to take being messed around like this, he said “no I want to know where the physical church is, I’ve looked in several small gardens and it’s not there. I want to know where it is”.
It was at this point that the vicar smiled that special grin he reserved for dealing with the elderly and the very young and said, “no I’m afraid my son you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. It’s not in Any Small Garden, it’s in a road called Ennismore Gardens.”
* although I did include “Something for the weekend sir?” even though nobody has ever actually said it to me.