A small triumph—my first Turkish haircut

Getting a haircut is a very culturally-bound ritual, something I did not know until I started traveling. In any country there are all sorts of norms as to how one behaves in a barbershop and well as wildly different prices between low-end barbers and high-end stylists. Making matters worse, I don't speak Turkish so I can't ask the right questions or understand the answers.

Undaunted, I set out to get a haircut.

In another part of town I had seen signs in barbershop windows that said the cost was 5 Turkish Lira (about $2.50 USD). Great, I thought, that must be the price. I asked one of the Italian brothers I am staying with where a barbershop was around here, and he pointed up the hill two blocks and to the right, for a mere 10 Lira. I asked, "What about a cheaper barber?" He went on in very fast Italian that he had see a place "under the bridge" that looked cheap, and went into a graphic pantomime about how they usually like to pluck the hair out of your ears (complete with expressions of pain), and he gave me directions... sort of. I don't speak Italian, but I can get the basic drift. The trouble was, I got the bridge part, but the bridge is fairly large, with perhaps forty shops under it, with another fifty shops under the station next to the bridge.

So I went walking to get a haircut. I could not find the barber “under the bridge”, so I asked a waiter who was trying to hustle me into his establishment. He explained (in Turkish) something about passing under the bridge off on the right, passing a “cash machine” (fortunately, some words in Turkish I understand, such as “bankamatik”) and going up three floors. I tried to follow his instructions with no luck.

So I asked again: "Next corner, take a left” someone gestured, and off I went, and there it was… a barbershop!

I walked in. It was rather large and un-crowded, a worrisome sign. Worse, there was no sign about the price. So I asked how much. 45 Lira. 45 Lira! Not even in New York have I paid 45 Lira for a haircut! The gentleman on the chair protested (in English), “but it is a good haircut”, to which I replied, “I am not that handsome,” and I left, dejected, giving up for the day. It was too hot to look any more.

Returning home, I got the brother who had given me directions together with another brother who could speak English and quizzed him on exactly where this mythical barbershop was. Getting new instructions in English, I followed them the next morning and there, hiding behind the other shops was a hallway packed with barbers and a sign, “Berber: 4L”! 4 Lira! My quest was at an end! Almost.

A kid told me to sit in this chair, and someone else pointed me to another chair. How to choose? I hesitated, which caused them to raise the decibels of their insistence enough for someone who seemed to have authority to come over and point, “That chair.” Sorry kid. Then… what did I want.

The guy next to me was getting a facial and had a white mask of cream on his face. Not that! I travel a lot and try to expand my narrow viewpoints, but in the Midwest, men don’t get facials. We just don’t.

In the States you can say “number 1 on the side, number 6 on the top” and be done with it (the size of the guards on puts on the electric razor). Not so here; but I found an electric razor with a number 1 guard and put it up next to my head, and I pointed to someone else who had about a number 6 on top and gestured to do that on top. Light dawned, the clouds opened up, a dove flew down from heaven, a smile came over the barber’s face and he was enlightened.

He did a great job, and for 4 Lira (plus 1 tip)! I was ready when he pointed to my ears. No, there will be no plucking today (thank you for that tip, Antonio). On my way out of the barbershop the man-in-charge tried to talk me into a facial, explaining in Turkish something like “surely a man with a moustache that handsome wants to put cream on his lovely face.” Some day I will get over being born in the Midwest, but today it was enough to get my first Turkish haircut with no guide. Indiana Jones, step aside!