peter groot

‘I look at everyone’s hair. Often people get confused as to why I’m looking at them. Sometimes it’s a good haircut, sometimes it’s really bad. Like the woman behind you; she has a bad look. Her hair looks like a bird’s nest.’

If I had a haircut worthy of the name, this would be the time to start doubting it. I’m sitting across from a man who owns one of the fashionable hair salons in the city and isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. ‘Vidal Sassoon? I hate him. That’s not a haircut, it’s a helmet.’

We speak mainly in German, as Péter spent most of his life living and working in Munich. When he was ten, his parents moved to Munich where he opened a salon under his own last name. ‘Here, people always think I’m a German,’ Péter smiles as he falls upon his pastry. ‘When they see me and the way I dress, they assume I’m a foreigner.’

‘Really? But you don’t have an accent when speaking Hungarian, do you?’

Péter’s friend who came with him to translate, nods at me with a meaningful grin. I start laughing, as Péter is still mulling over his answer to my question. ‘Do I? Well… In my defence, even when I don’t say a word, people think I’m from abroad.’

A few years ago, Péter realized his dream of opening a salon in his birthplace Budapest. His shop Sáfárik is situated on the Champs Elysees of Budapest, the Andrassy Ut. ‘It’s the most beautiful street in Budapest, it has always been my dream to have a salon here. It’s not too big, but it’s very elegant and special. Maybe even too special.’

‘Why? Don’t the people appreciate it?’ ‘Not really, most Hungarians like the normal hair dressers, nothing too exclusive. They like it ordinary’, Péter says, making a face as if he smells something bad.

‘Too be honest, when I picked the hair dressers for my project, I expected them to be simpler. Now I see it involves a lot more than cutting hair. It involves psychology, technique, nurturing the chemistry with customers.’

‘Our image a big problem, many people assume we’re dumb. My aim in this job is to upgrade the image of hairdressers. And believe me, that’s not an easy mission. Cutting hair has to do with fashion; it’s a vital part of it. Unfortunately, this is rarely acknowledged.’

‘What are you doing to make this image better?’

‘Delivering good work and quality haircuts. I have a nice salon with a good ambiance, both the customer and the hair dresser have to feel at ease. And professionalism is a big thing; you don’t see much of that these days.’

‘It occurred to me that although Budapest is a beautiful city, people are not very happy here. When I walk down the street I see no one smiling. Is that their nature, or is it the bad economy?’

A pitying smile appears on Péter’s face. ‘It’s the Eastern European trauma is what it is. It’s everything, really. The economy; the politics; a way of thinking derived from a previous era. The whole of Eastern Europe is slightly depressed, actually. It’s very different from the West and it will always be like that.’

‘Maybe it’s because people can’t really be themselves here. The government is anti-gay, anti-Semitic. Pretty anti-everything if you ask me.’

‘It’s true. One of the leading parties in the parliament, Jobbik, actually opted for a law that sends gays to jail.’

‘But why are they given so much space to say such things?’ ‘Because they were elected by the people. The politicians go to the villages and give the people chickens in exchange for votes. That’s why Jobbik and Fidesz have more than two thirds of the seats in the parliament.’

‘Did it make any difference when Hungary became part of the EU?’

‘I think it’s good that we’re in the EU. Everyone knows that if we were not, we’d be a dictatorship.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Look…’ Péter moves to the tip of his chair, lowering his voice. ‘Any liberal-thinking person cannot imagine what it is like here. I didn’t even see it at first, visiting as a tourist. I’m not interested in politics; I read some things here and there. But politics is always there, you never know what to expect.’

It seems like you don’t even have to be particularly interested in politics if you live in Hungary. Politics will come to you, whether in the form of anti-Semitism or a brand new internet tax. Perhaps politicians are like football referees; when they do their job well, you don’t notice them that much. It’s a bad match when the referee takes over.

‘Do you feel European?’

‘I do, I love Europe.’


‘Because we’re all so different. France, Germany, all different, I love it! Unlike the US, where everything is the same.’

‘Is there also something we as Europeans have in common?’

Péter sits back, thinking hard about this question. ‘Do we? I don’t think so, but I don’t think that should be the goal of a united Europe; to make us all alike.’

‘Well, we have Starbucks and H&M everywhere in Europe.’ Péter has a look of dismay on his face. ‘Terrible! When I go to a different country, I want to see exactly that; difference. I don’t want to go to the same company as I have at home. I want to experience the differences.’

‘So is there something that should be the same?’

‘Well, perhaps the care for the elderly or the dental care should be unified.’ ‘Taxes, as well?’ Péter shakes his head intensely. ‘No no, I don’t think that’s a good idea.’

Whether unified or highly diversified; taxes are never a popular subject.

‘Last question. You think the image of hair dressers needs improvement. What about the image of Europe?’

I think the overall image of Europe is good. When I was in New York, everything that came from Europe was good. Designs from Europe, European restaurants. Everything that’s good overseas is European or is of European descent. So that’s good, I think Europe has a positive image.’

(interview by Mark, written by Sophie Moerman)