The Turkish barber

We’ve been in Istanbul for a few days now.

We ended up in a neighborhood about fifteen minutes away from the most well-known historic area of Istanbul.

It’s a colorful neighborhood. Definitely not overly touristy. Pretty working class. Which is neat really.

Narrow cobble stone streets. Five story apartment buildings. Little stores, laundry shops, small cafes, street vendors. And barbershops. Barbershops on every corner.

Turkish men take grooming seriously. Once I noticed how many barber shops there are, I also noticed how nearly all the guys here are sporting fresh fades.

And I was in need of a haircut.

One of the most cultural experience I have ever had was a trip to the Turkish barber.  Might sound boring, but it was a pretty exciting! 

At about 8pm, I popped into the corner shop.

I was invited to have a seat while the barber worked on the chaps in line ahead of me.

Some had come for a trim, some for a shave, some for both. While I waited, a few more stopped in. They appeared to be personal friends of the barber as they were greeted with “Salam walakum”, a handshake and the side to side head press that is the Turkish version of the cheek-to-cheek kiss greeting.

There was one barber on duty and a young helper whom the barber good-naturedly cajoled and hustled about throughout the evening.

The shop had three black barber’s chairs, each with a sink and a mirror in front of them. The shop occupied the first floor corner of the building and so 2 of the four walls were looked with windows. Under one row was a bench and table where we waited for our turn in a barber’s chair.

After about a forty minute wait, it was my turn. I took a seat in the chair. The barber spoke just a few words in English, so with the help of Google translate, we established how I wanted my hair cut.

The haircut was pretty routine, but with a little more attention to detail than I was used to. He used a straight razor around all the edges. To make sure the top was even, he used a blow dryer and a brush to tease my hair straight up and even everything out.

I indicated I was up for the whole experience, so he moved on to the shave.

He poured a little hot water into a cup, whipped up some foam with a shaving brush, and lathered up my face.

After each quick but careful stroke with the straight razor, he wiped the edge of the blade free of foam and trimmings on the back of the fingers of his free hand.

To shave smooth and the convex surfaces of my face, he carefully stretched the skin of my cheeks and chin with his left hand while he shaved with his right.

When he had finished the shave, he dipped a two-inch chisel brush into hot black wax in a pot on a burner in the corner. This was applied to my upper cheeks. It was hot, but not painful. Then two q-tips into the same pot and one up each nostril. Felt a little hotter in my nostrils than it did on my cheeks.

While the hot wax was curing on my cheeks and in my nostrils, he dipped a little wad of cotton on the end of a stick into alcohol and ignited it. He bounced the open flame against my ears and I could hear the crackling of the fine hairs on my ears being singed off (I didn’t think I had hair on my ears).

Once the flame was put away, he pulled the cured wax off my cheeks to remove any offensive hairs there. Not gonna lie, this process smarts a little.

Next, the q-tips in my nostrils . A couple of wiggles and a steady pull, and out came any and all nose hairs firmly cemented in the wax. Not gonna lie, this hurt a little more than the cheek wax.

If you think that the process up to this point is sufficient for removing all unwanted facial hair, you are mistaken.

Next step: threading. First he rubbed a palmful of talc into my skin. Then after pulling a length of thread from a spool, he formed a loop and twisted it several times.  With the loop in his left hand, one free end in his right hand and one free end clenched between his teeth, he laid the thread against my face. Opening and releasing the loop with his fingers, he bobbed his head forward and back.  With each bob, the loop tightened and twisted, grasping all the fine wispy hairs from my forehead and cheeks and jerking them out.

Now, with a smooth, clean face, I was ready for a nose strip and face mask. After 20 minutes, the mask had cured and the barber peeled it off my face.

I leaned forward over the sink as the my face and head were washed and shampooed. A short face, neck, and head massage followed.

A full blow-dry and style and three different face salves and ointments finished up the treatment.

So, 2 hours later and $20 lighter, I left the barbershop.

I was done, but the barber was far from finished. When I left at 10 pm, he was still going strong.

I had him leave the mustache because are you really a dad if you’ve never had a mustache.

Took Nolan in the next day for a cut. He just got a cut though. No hot wax or open flames for him.

Look at that handsome devil!