07.03.2013 - 07.03.2013 14 °C
Abby, Hannah and I were able to check off a very important item on our to-do list today. We all went for haircuts. Muriel had gone to a hairdresser in town last week, which paved the way to the girls getting theirs done this morning. A nice perk for all of us waiting or observing is the inevitable offer of chai (tea). The tea is not made in the shop but delivered as fast as lightning by a cafe nearby.
By my uneducated eye, the woman’s hair salon was not much different than one you would find in Canada, but the kids say the hairdresser had fewer fancy tools of the trade. Another interesting perk was the fact that Abby was given her own specially formulated hair treatment product to take home with her. It was mixed right in the shop by the hairdresser assistant according to the specific instructions of the hairdresser and put in an empty water bottle. I think the only downside was total cost of the experience. The price for a woman’s cut and shampoo although lower than in Canada is not a true bargain.
After we were done with the girls, we headed over to a barbershop I have had my eye on for the last few weeks. It has a steady flow of customers, and looked very well maintained. The clients seemed in the 20 to 50 year range. The pictures on display and the clients seemed to have haircuts very much like in North America and Europe which is what I am most comfortable with. Your more traditional Turkish haircut seems to be a brush cut. As the average male Turk is blessed with a very thick head of hair and I am not I thought it best to seek out a barber who favours a more North American style.
What can I say about a man’s haircut and shave in Turkey? Let me start by an observation I have about women and hairdressers in Canada. There seems to be the need for a certain bond or chemistry between client and hairdresser. After all a woman’s hair is a very personal and precious thing. It seems for many Canadian women, getting their hair done is quite an occasion. It is anticipated much like a social event and can be a highlight on their calendar that might equal a coffee date with a dear friend. For others, I gather it is valued nearly as much as a holiday celebration such as Christmas. In contrast, for most Canadian men the classic era of the old-fashioned barbershop where the boys seek each other out to shoot the breeze is mostly long gone. Nowadays, getting a haircut is something you quickly fit in between a trip to the recycling depot and mowing the lawn and it may often be done reluctantly. In Turkey, I would venture to say the tables are completely turned.
One of my most vivid memories of my previous visit to Turkey over 20 years ago, was a haircut I had in Bursa. I can report that things have not changed one iota over the years. It is an experience that takes time and is far more intimate than any relationship a woman may profess to have with her hairdresser in Canada. Let me just say it can be a bit of an adjustment for a more stand-offish guy from British Columbia.
Abby, Hannah and Muriel are not ones to miss out on a cultural experience. As a reult, my barber visit is well-documented. Muriel took pictures and video clips of the process which was a brave thing to do in the male sanctum of the Turkish barbershop. When you view the video montage that Hannah made from Muriel’s handiwork, you may notice some pretty serious facial expressions on my part. I think they deserve some explanation before you view it and begin your snickering at my expense. I also hope you will bear in mind the sacrifices I made to make this cultural experience available not only to my kids but dozens of people safely ensconced in the comfort of their armchairs back in Canada.
In the few lazy weeks before my barbershop experience I grew a beard. This was the first item I wanted to be rid of, followed by losing over three months of hair growth from the top of my head. I have heard it said, "The only proper shave is the one done with a straight razor." All I can say, is that you only really understand the definition of vulnerable after you had a complete stranger hold a knife to your throat and singe your ear hairs with a flaming cotton swab. The application of the warm shaving cream is quite a pleasant start, save for the cream on the lips and the barber running his fingers along them to clear up the overflow. The actual shave was deftly done. I obeyed the unspoken command not to move a face muscle lest I wish to be make an unscheduled blood donation. After the shaving was done I let my my mind wander and tried to joke with my fairly silent family behind me (none of which was caught on camera). It was just after this that the alcohol was liberally rubbed onto my newly shaven face. I know my male readers might be able to appreciate what a really close shave does to the sensitivity of the skin on one’s face. Women, well what can I say, it is not quite on the level of child birth but there is some significant discomfort involved. As I was coping with this new development (hence serious expression in video) a little pain chaser was served up with a flaming cotton swab on the end of stick that was brushed along my ears to deal with any peach fuzz or hair that may be trying to gain a footing. A problem I didn’t think I was suffering from. By the time this all had transpired my barber really had my full and serious attention once again.
Upon my entrance into the barber shop, I had clearly and earnestly explained what I wanted in terms of a shave and a haircut. My barber had some grasp of English which was quite a relief. So the first instructions of getting rid of the beard were flawlessly, albeit not painlessly, executed. The second set of instructions was about the haircut. I had combed my hair in my normal fashion and indicated that I was looking for an overall cut that would follow the lines of my normal haircut. The barber got out his fresh pair of scissors and comb along with an electric razor.
The razor brought back a memory of a trip to Morocco with a friend of mine from college. He was in bad need of a haircut. He had brashly, if not rashly, sat in a barber chair and just said cut. In a twinkle of an eye the barber had run an electric razor over the top of his head, it was too late for him to ask for a different less utilitarian style. It was a haircut that took his wife more than a few days to accept.
Unlike my friend Phil, I had taken pains to make a snipping motion with my fingers while explaining the hair cut. The razor was for my neck and for a final trim around my temples, I erroneously thought. Quite to the opposite of the Moroccan barber the first cut took place well out of view on the very back of my head but the rest of the execution was about the same. This was of course in prime view of my spectating family. Hannah made an inaudible gasp and told me later she was going to yell stop but was too late. In the mirror, I could see both Abby and Muriel’s eyes noticeably widen. It was too late to work on a better translation of my instructions now. I lost hair at an alarming rate once my barber got moving with the razor. There was no indication that scissors were going to make an appearance anytime soon. Mercifully he did finally slow to a stop as he started to get closer to the top of my head. At this point he let fly with his scissors. In the pictures and video I can report that I look a bit more closely shorn than I indeed am. This is in large part due to my scalp having been hidden from the sun all these months. The sickly white palour seems to overtake the thin layer of hair that in fact remains. The whole effect is magnified by the fact that my neck and face are a quite contrasting shade of golden brown.
By the time the cut was done, I thought I was on the home stretch. Little did I know the best was yet to come. I was now ready for my hair and face wash. I am put face first into a sink and have copious amounts of water and soap put on my hair and face. I was quite glad that I had some prior experience with this or else the risk of drowning is not quite out of the realm of the probable. When I finally was allowed to come up for air, the course of my shave and cut experience took a radical turn. I think earlier in this post I used the very unmasculine term, “intimate” to describe the relationship between Turkish barber and client. A facial massage with copious amount of lotion and a whole upper body massage are where the bonding experience begins. Perhaps he is trying to calm me down after nearly lighting my ears on fire or he is making up for rubbing pure alcohol into the cuts he made on my face. I have to admit the video is quite hilarious especially with Hannah’s added captions. I certainly have been stripped of any pride by Hannah’s video handiwork. The whole situation of not knowing what will happen next is probably one of the reasons for my serious expression as well as the somber, if not disinterested nature of my barber. I have to admit the cracking of my fingers by the barber was one of the quirky highlights of the massage. Perhaps, I could grow to like this whole ritual. But was this barber really the one for me? Alas, I will never know. I digress.
The haircut was looking not quite as bad as I first feared, but my face was looking pretty red and irritated by this time. Fortunately, this was quickly addressed by a liberal application of baby powder and another facial massage as my barber consulted with his partner about the state of my neck. The treatment really seemed to do the trick. I thought I was home free but I had to experience a few more procedures. First was a lightning quick and completely unexpected foray in search of nose hairs (sometimes it’s just better not knowing what is going to come next) and an equally speedy trim of my eyebrows. This was all followed by a hair gelling with quantities of product that rivals that used by some teenagers to maintain their punk rocker look.
Yes, I was finally done! The damage to the pocket book was much less than my daughter’s haircut and cheaper than a basic haircut by a Canadian barber. As for the hair, it will eventually grow back. The damage to my self-respect and pride as a result of the video, may take a good deal longer to fix and the memory of the experience will never go away.
Now that you have read my take on the shave and cut you can watch the video and make your own observations. You can even do a Google search of Turkish haircuts and shaves to see the use of the flaming Q-tip to singe ear hairs and witness other versions of facial massages.