We have got used to having our hair removed by other men. This is not some sexual fantasy, but merely the fact that getting a true wet shave with a cut throat razor feels like a bit of cheap pampering when you are on the road.
We have been shaved by a one legged barber in a hut in the Philippines, on the side of the road in India, sat on a dining chair with a lounge mirror hung on the nearby fence post. This bit male cosmetic indulgence usually costs no more than a few dollars.
Turkey is head and shoulders above the competition and takes the award for the most comprehensive and pamper laden of them all. In most places in Asia you will get soaped up and double shaved, a cursory head massage and be out of the door in five minutes. In Turkey they take a whole lot longer and it involves the eradication of hair from your head orifices as well as your chin. Here’s how it goes.
The Turkish Shave – Wax or Burn
The soap dish is filled with water and the brush used to lather up a mound of foam from the soap block before it is applied delicately to your face. Then begins your first shave. The barbers here have been doing this for years and they move the cut throat across your face and chin like a ballerina across a stage, wiping the excess on the back of their hand in graceful movements.
Once your face is clear you get lathered up for the second shave to get that baby skin feel as they banish the last of the hairs from your chin. In Turkey through this is just the beginning of your barber experience.
The ears get the attention of the barber next. If you are still in your twenties or thirties (or female) you will not yet have started sprouting annoying, coarse hairs from within your ear that grow as fast as a garden in summer. For me this process is well underway and the hair is annoying and pecking at it with a safety razor or a ear and nose trimmer really never does the trick. The Turks have an answer to this.
Method one is hot wax, they will put a big dollop of hot wax that has been cooking in a cauldron on the counter into your ear and around your earlobe. The wax is also then spread liberally over your cheeks and across your forehead. This is left to chill and then unceremoniously ripped off, taking with it your unwanted hair and some skin you were rather attached to. The second method utilises a giant sized cotton bud dipped in methylated spirit, lit and then waved over and inside your ears and across your cheeks and forehead until the hair is burnt. It doesn’t feel hot, but the smell of burning hair is not a pleasant one. Your eyebrows will then be attended to and any errant hairs plucked out. Luckily the next stage is far more fragrant and less painful.
You will then be splashed with lemon tonic (Limon Kolonyasi) which will sting where you have been shaved and waxed. Then comes the shaving balm and you are treated to a facial massage, rubbing in the balm to soothe the sting of the lemon. The final stage is a full head; neck and shoulder massage to ease away the fright and tension caused by the cut-throat, burning and waxing.
The whole process is a pleasant experience and will take up to an hour depending on where you go and the level of chit chat and smoking that goes on. In between the stages expect to be supplied with lashing of Turkish tea and the sharing of a fag or two with the barber.
This shave and facial will cost you more than in the rest of Asia, for us a shave came in at around 10 Lira (around six dollars) but is well worth it for the efficient removal of ear hair alone. We did the Turkish barber experience a few times, and by far the best place was in a backstreet in Sultanahmet, full of locals chatting away between themselves, and to us while we got our facials. Top marks to Turkey and who said Turkish men were butch?