Beat up in Istanbul (Part 2): The Turkish Haircut

The flaming, tweezing, burning, skin-tearing Turkish haircut:

After a month of traveling, it was time for me to get a hair cut. I was going to wait until I was back in the states, but on the way back from a night on the Iskital district in Istanbul, Sydney and I ran across a barbershop and thought, why not? I had no idea what I was in for.

First off, it was 11:30PM and the place was hopping. Strange, right? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a barbershop open that late. Turks are very active at night and we’ve seen entire families and little children out shopping even at midnight. It may have something to do with it being Ramadan, I’m not yet sure.

Anyway, I was sold on the fact that it looked safe and no nonsense. It was a guys barbershop. There were men in their 20’s that look like Turkish versions of me. What’s the worst that could happen? I asked the guy for simple haircut. 20TL, he said (the only words he could speak in English). Doable. OK, I said, and sat down.

Started out with a nice shampoo. Nothing odd here. Kind of refreshing actually. Then things got weird in a hurry.

The barber suddenly knocks back my seat and with a tongue depresser covered in molten green wax, starts painting my surprised face. I’ve never had a wax of any kind and to have it so unexpectedly poured on my face caught me off guard. I may have squealed a little. Then some sort of wrap is applied to my nose. Eyebrows trimmed. Wax ripped off… Ouch…

Then even more unfamiliar breeds of pain. The barber picked up a long black string and started flossing my face as if it were a set of molars. With each stroke the string ripped hair off my eyebrows and the upper part of my face. It was quite painful. The barber didn’t hesitate as I flinched, winced, and grimaced with each newly dislodged follicle. He seemed only vaguely aware that his work involved a human being, with nerve endings… So many nerve endings. Sydney later told me that this was called eyebrow threading and is common in India and now in America.

After the face flossing, I received the strangest and scariest treatment yet. Throughout the entire experience, my eyes were wide open in a deer-in-the-headlights stare. After the barber pulled out some scissors, stuck a cotton ball on the end, doused it in alcohol, and lit it on fire, I let out an exasperated, “Oh, God. What now?” I looked in panic through the window back at Sydney, sitting on the couch behind me and mouthed the most pathetic “help me.” She found it quite amusing and was not interested in intervening.

With flaming scissors in hand, the barber tilted my head and proceeded to repeatedly smack me in the ear with the fireball. While it only burned a little, the lack of preparation and understanding for what was taking place, as well as already being a little dazed from the face floss, caused me to freak out. After about 10 lashes on each ear with his burning instrument, he was done. Apparently it was to burn off any ear hairs (I didn’t have any).

After the burning and flossing, things got a little easier. My face was again painted, this time with some unknown green substance (I’m sure spa-goers will be able to identify). Then he actually got around to cutting my hair. The haircut came in a truly Turkish fashion: ending with my hair lathered in gel and face splashed with cologne.

All things considered, it was one of the best haircuts I’ve ever received. It was also completely unexpected, shocking, and at times painful. Pain and language barriers are always a recipe for trauma.

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