Friday, March 29, 2013

It's Not Like Your Hair Is On Fire, Your Hair IS On Fire

Warning: In this entry I speak very frankly about an experience that I had. This is one of those things where unless you have a deep curiosity, it might be something that you just don’t want to know about.  Now that I’ve said that, I have probably divided my audience into those who want to read it because it is my weekly missive and those who absolutely must read it because of what I just said. I probably also have gained a massive college student audience who were looking for something else entirely using Google and this popped up.

During any seven day week I have 28 hours which are completely mine and that can be used in any way that I choose.  In case you’re curious, that is two hours for each of my work days and 16 hours on Sunday.  So, I have a tendency to try to do things very efficiently and combine things together during those free hours so that I can make the most of them.

I had written previously that I found a great place to get my haircut, but because it is in the center of the city it can take me 45 minutes each way or more. When you add in the 90 minutes to two hours or so for the “works”; this eats up almost half of my Sunday. So, this week I opted to do something different when I spotted a Men’s Salon in my new neighborhood.  The place had a sign out front that said in English Turkish Barber.  It would be nice to have a place closer for those times when I was forcibly limited on time and still need a haircut.

Now, it is not unusual here for the nationality of the tradesmen to be posted here on a sign outside of his shop.  I have seen Indian Mechanic, Lebanese Chef, Pakistani Carpenter and Filipino Cook posted outside of various establishments. Just like in the US where you tend to look for a specific type of person for specific type of service, the same holds true here.  So, it is really not an ethnicity thing as much as it is a badge of pride. However, saying this, I had no idea what Turkish Barber really meant.

A long time ago, in America, barbers were responsible not only for cutting hair but also for performing dentistry. I will summarize my experience now by telling you that I found that a Turkish Barber not only cuts hair on the head but it is also responsible for all other hair above the shoulders.  This entailed the use of not only scissors and clippers but also string, tweezers, razors, wax, and fire.  Before I go on in detail what exactly happened please read the warning at the top of this passage again.

I walked into the shop and was greeted by one of the two barbers who worked there.  I looked over both men before selecting which one I wanted to cut my hair.  I used the barbershop rule for small towns:  If there are only two barbers always go to the one with the worst haircut, because his hair was cut by the other guy.

I sat down in the chair and he offered me a cup of Turkish tea, which I passed on taking a bottle of water instead. I like Turkish tea, but is very difficult to drink anything out of the cup while getting a haircut.  You wind up with a cup full of hair clippings along with whatever it is you’re trying to drink.  He placed the apron around me and then told me that he did not speak any English.  I guess it is a good thing that the one bit of English he really did know well was how to say that he didn’t speak it. I described what I want it done with both hand gestures and using a combination of Arabic and street slang to explain what I wanted.  He nodded, which I took as a good sign because it wasn’t a head wobble -- I know, I need to explain what that is at some point as well.  Another time.

He sprayed my hair down with water and then started cutting the sides using his fingers to grip various bits of hair to ensure that it is going to be layered properly.  At this point, I actually relaxed a little because what he was doing was familiar to me. After cutting both sides he went through and layered the top and then used a special pair of scissors to thin out some of the bulk and overall I thought it looked pretty good when I glanced into the mirror.  This had taken slightly longer than I haircut in the states, but I felt he had done a fairly good job. And I was getting ready to get up when he asked me if I wanted him to trim my eyebrows.  I said yes and he did this using a comb and a pair of scissors. Again he did a very good job and I again prepared to get up and leave.  Then he said something in Turkish which I did not understand and when he saw a curious look on my face he said something that sounded like ”It is okay, you will like”.  I was apprehensive again.

He reappeared a few moments later and then produced a cotton swab which appear to be covered in some sort of green goo that he then proceeded to put into my nose.  To say this was an odd feeling is an understatement as the goo was also very warm.  Having been told all my life not pick my nose, it was odd to have some stranger doing it with a Q-Tip.  I realized after a moment that what he was doing was a nasal wax, something I had never done before but obviously was halfway committed to at this point. He disappeared again coming back with another cotton swab full of goo and soon my nose had been waxed shut.
He stood there for a moment and then leaned forward looking closely at my cheeks; then he disappeared again.  This time we came back he had a stick full of goo and spread this on my upper cheek just below my eye.  I thought to myself that if this was wax then he must be removing those small hairs on my upper cheek that I often miss while shaving.  At least that made a little sense to me.  After doing  this to both cheeks he departed leaving me alone for a few moments.

Have you ever seen The 40-Year Old Virgin?  While sitting there I had visions of the scene where the hero gets his chest waxed as I realized that those Q-Tips in my nose would have eventually to come out. I also knew from experience that if you ever accidentally pulled one of those small hairs in your nose it would bring tears to your eyes. Now I was faced with a reality of what would happen when you grab several and rip them out all at once.  I suddenly felt an enormous amount of empathy for all the women in the world who had gone through a Brazilian wax.

About then the Barber reappeared and without warning grabbed both swabs and pulled them out at the same time.  Ouch does not begin to describe it.  Apparently there are several English words that require no translation into Turkish to be understood.  I used all of those words and a few more.  To be truthful, the pain was momentary.

He then removed the wax from my cheeks which was more painful.  The Barber then looked again closely at my cheeks and made a “tsk tsk” sound; he then disappeared and reappeared with a piece of string.  I had heard of threading before, but was not sure what it was all about.  I now know.  He proceeded to somehow loop the string around the individual hairs that remained and yanked them out.  This hurt and brought about a sudden epiphany as I suddenly remembered the characterization of Turks in both Lawrence of Arabia and Midnight Express. 

Next, he took up set of clippers and trimmed my goatee and mustache; doing a very good job but trimming it shorter than I normally would.  I thought about it, since I was about to walk out of the barbershop, I should expect it to be shorter than it will be later when I walk back in for my next trim.  He completed this he used a small pair of tweezers to remove the errant hairs from around my mustache that were too short to clip into long to be ignored.

Fine, I had survived the Turkish Barber house of horrors and was wondering how much I should tip this man at this point; when I noticed him walk off to one side of the station and pulled out a long thin stick.  He wrapped a small piece of tissue around the end of this and then sprayed it with hairspray. Next, he lit it on fire. I felt I had been a fairly good sport up to now not objecting too much about the treatment that I was going through, but I was not going to let him light anything on my face on fire. That was not what he was about to do.

Taking a step behind me and holding my ear out from the rest of my head, he used this flame to incinerate the small hairs around the rim of my ear. About the time that you could hear the crackling of the hair burning he would slap it with his hand to put it out. I guess the only thing I can really say about this entire processes is do not try this by yourself at home. I’m fairly sure you would wind up setting your head on fire.

Next, he applied a small amount of shaving cream to his hand and used it to coat my the back of my neck and then used a razor to make the line back there as neat as possible. They used to do this in the states but at some point when I was in Guam they stopped doing it. My understanding was that it was due to fear of blood-borne diseases from using a shared blade. I watched as he unwrapped and used a brand-new razor on me so I felt fairly safe allowing this to happen.

Okay, there was no hair left above my shoulders that he had not somehow cut, shaved, ripped out, burned, tweezed, yanked, strangled with string or otherwise mutilated – I was ready to leave.  He then motioned for me to follow him to the back of the shop so that my hair could be washed. This is something that is very different in Kuwait than any other place I’ve been to in the world. They wash your hair after it is cut rather than before.  As result, when you walk out your hair no longer has a bunch of small clippings in it and it can be styled in the way that it should look from that point on.

After he styled my hair and gave me a brief neck massage, the Turkish Barber removed the apron and pronounced me finished.  I had been in the chair roughly an hour or so. I think he was a little surprised I also didn’t want a shave while I was there as this is part of the normal treatment. That probably would have taken another 30 minutes or so.  Anyway, total bill for this assault on my follicles: 4KD, roughly $15.  There are things that are outrageously expensive in Kuwait, personal services is not one of them.

Looking back a few days after this experience, I have to admit that my hair looks great and that all the other treatments provided actually make me look a bit more well-coiffed and professional.  I’m still not so sure about the whole nasal waxing thing or using fire is a hair cutting tool, but I’ve always maintained that I am somewhat of road less traveled kind of a guy.  



  1. Replies
    1. Are you on Twitter? I tweeted this post to all blog followers. :)

    2. Glad you liked the post, I am on Twitter: TravelersWords

      Thank you for the Tweet to your Peeps!

  2. Personal services are definitely one of the better things about Kuwait that I really miss. The women's salons have started working towards a more 'trendy' Western feel, resulting in much higher prices. But there's one little salon that still looks like a hole in the wall, no updates, no desire to be Westernized, and they're prices are still low while their work can't be beat.

    1. This place was sparse compared with the upscale place I went last time. Like I said, the haircut was a good one -- so the shop is on my "trusted" list.

  3. Great post!
    The barbershop is cheap here. Women salon are getting expensive :(
    They do madi and pedi for a good price, you can carry your own tools for safety in a cosmetics bag :)