Why the Barber Pole?


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Published: May 18th 2020
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I always wondered. Now we know, thanks to Trivia Genius:
Back in the 16th century, the majority of Europeans couldn’t read. In fact, an estimated 61 percent of men in Norwich, near London, couldn’t even write their own name! For shopkeepers and craftspeople, this widespread illiteracy was something of a marketing problem: How could they advertise their businesses to a public that couldn’t read?

One solution was craftsman, or guild, signs. Above the doorway of most medieval businesses hung a metal emblem clearly illustrating the shopkeeper’s profession: A pair of scissors indicated a tailor; a key indicated a locksmith; a fish indicated a fishmonger. As for barbers? A red or blue candy-striped pole usually did the job.

Speaking of barber poles, did I ever tell you about trying to get a haircut as a youngster in my little, mostly Swedish hometown of Kingsburg (near Fresno in the great San Joaquin Valley). People of Japanese descent could not haircuts in town (Post WW2), so we either had to drive a few miles up to Selma to get a haircut from a Mexican barber, or have my grandfather "butcher" me with a pair of hand clippers.

Finally, when I reach junior high, my Dad became friends with a nice, Slavic fellow through the local Lions Club. He said he would cut my hair, as well as my brother's. It turns out the other barbers in town would not cut hair of Japanese people!

His name was Eddie Pastircak, who had a lovely wife, Pauline, and three daughters, who we grew up with. Bless his heart!
Of course, during the quarantine or shelter in place, many of us have resorted to "home cuts", or the "quarantine cut" as I have heard. This may start a new trend. Why pay anywhere from $10 to $65 for a simple haircut? Or, just do as I do, wear cap, or a cycling helmet. Is there a lesson here? Of course, immigrants, and people who looked like foreigners back in the 50s, and EVEN now, are not treated well. But hey, we are American citizens!!! Yes, the lesson is still trying to get across!!!


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