Brussels' Broad Brush


Seems the sun never rises over Europe anymore but that the new day isn't accompanied by new rules to live by. Parisians have awakened to learn that much of their beloved cheese failed to conform to new European Union microbe norms. Londoners have risen to find that British labor law as developed under Margaret Thatcher didn't conform to new EU work norms. And this spring, the men of Iesolo, Italy, woke to the fact that their barbers were violating EU shaving norms.

Yes, shaving norms. If a nation wants to enjoy the benefits of the Euro, its barbers must stop using shaving brushes to lather up their customers' beards. According to EU bureaucrats in Brussels, traditional brushes (which long ago disappeared from American barber shops) are unhygienic; by banning them, they plan to keep Europe's faces in uniformly good shape.

The barbers of Iesolo, a little town near Venice, had failed to take notice of this change until April, when Daniele Bison, head of the town's council, asserted his leadership. "I have taken the decision," Bison told the press decisively, "that Iesolo should conform to European norms."

For the barbers of Iesolo, this came as a prickly surprise. First, no other Italian community, big or small, had paid the slightest attention to this rule. Second, no one in Iesolo had ever complained about the use of brushes. Third, no health problem seems ever to have arisen from the brushes, which anyway are boiled after each use. Fourth, the new techniques of lathering -- hot lather spewed from machines, then spread while wearing gloves -- are expected to increase the cost of a shave. Fifth, more expensive shaves will probably mean that more men will shave at home, and thus that some barbers will be out of work.

So why create this hairy problem? Bison didn't say. Perhaps it was shear malice.