To be honest, when I started thinking about a blog, I never thought that I would write one on haircuts. It’s such a mundane activity that you do all the time at home. But unless you travel for a long time (often REALLY long in the case of some people!) you are unlikely to experience this mundane task abroad.
WARNING! This post contains embarrassing photos!
When I first went to Malaysia in 2010, I lived there for 3 months completing a Divemaster internship. As I was there for so long I took a trusty phrase book and learnt some of the language. My dive instructor Julius was also my part time language teacher.
“I need to get my haircut when I’m back in town, how do I ask for a barbers?”
“In Malay it is ‘kedai gunting rambut‘” he replied.
Translated literally it means “shop scissors hair” which I found (and still do find) hilarious. Shortly after I had my first haircut abroad in the kedai gunting rambut.
A few months later I had another haircut in Brunei. For only £2 I had a haircut, a massage and a shave. The massage included my neck, shoulders and for some strange reason, lots of rubbing of the scalp which didn’t relax me in the slightest. It was also the first time that I had a cut throat razor shave. It is such a weird feeling having another man touch your face in that way with a blade so sharp it could end your life. Maybe a bit dramatic but I was definitely nervous sitting in that chair.
Fast forward a few years and I was in India. I met Julian in a hostel in Mumbai. We decided to get a haircut together as a way to kill time before I left on my train late that night. He was travelling for a long time and wanted his locks to be a bit different. He took the clippers from the barbers hands and promptly shaved a large strip into his head. It was something that he had always wanted to do and felt free when he walked out with a shaved head a few minutes later. I went for a pretty regular haircut but the barber was shocked that I didn’t want my beard shaved. Apparently thats a pretty regular occurance in India.
A few weeks later I felt brave and decided it was time for the beard to be shaved off for the first time in over three years. I found a small barbers in a hut on the corner of two roads in Manali in the far north of India. I sat down and the apron was put around my neck. It was only then that I questioned the number of disposable razor blades scattered around the shelves in front of me. Thankfully I saw the barber get a new one out of the box before he started on my stubble. I walked out with a baby face after the closest of cut throat razor shaves.
Another memorable experience was in the capital of Timor-Leste, Dili. I went to a barber who was very exited to have a foreigner in his shop. He spoke a little bit of English but not too much, just enough for casual small talk. He was shocked that I hadn’t had my haircut in over four weeks so seemed to invite most of his family in to stare at me.
He asked for my phone number so he could stay in contact. It’s a running joke in our family that when someone asks for your phone number and you don’t really want to give it them, we give them the number for our local taxi company. So sorry about that Village Cars.
But I have had some shocking haircuts as well. Oneof the worst I’ve had was in New Zealand. The place will remain nameless but a small hairdressers in Christchurch gave me a hair style that can only be described as “pineapple”.
But what is worse than a barber messing up your hair?
Making an absolute mess of it yourself.
I have only tried this once in China to try and trim the back and sides. It didn’t go well. In fact it went so badly that within a few days I decided to get rid of the entire thing and shave my head.
However they haven’t all been bad.
One of the best haircuts I’ve had was in Osaka, Japan. I don’t speak any Japanese but I learnt the word for short (shoto) before walking in. The young lad didn’t speak any English but with the Japanese being so hospitable we managed to make it work. I mimed the clippers at the back and sides and said “shoto” then held up a bit on top and said the same. 10 minutes of sitting in silence later I had one of the best and reasonably priced haircuts I have had in a none English speaking country.
I feel like getting your haircut in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language should be an experience that everyone should experience at least once! Yes it can go wrong but it’s something that is a mundane activity at home which will take you out of your comfort zone just that little bit. A local barber may never have cut the hair of a foreigner before which may seem strange to them.
Have you ever had your haircut abroad? Was it a good or bad experience?
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.