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International Barbers

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

I like barber shops because they tend to be old school with groups of dudes lounging around listening to music and bullshitting about life. I would go so far as to say that they can even be intimate spaces, but I suggest you do not label them as such in a barber shop—it may not be appreciated. Having said that, I’ve had some deep conversations with men holding razors to my neck. No kidding. I also enjoy the sensations of the haircut and shave. If I close my eyes and breathe deeply, it’s almost meditative. Buzz of clippers. Eyebrows losing their old-man length. Precise sideburn lines being carved. This stuff matters.

I’ve come to especially enjoy getting haircuts at barber shops while traveling. It’s an odd practice, but I find that it can be a direct route to an authentic local experience. For example, in Mexico last year, mi esposa Cheri and I voyaged away from resort prices into the heart of a lazy pueblo for me to get a haircut at a legit barber shop. A big motivation for this particular journey was that I had attempted to cut my own hair prior to the trip and, brilliantly, wreaked havoc---as in, a laughable hole in the side of my head. As we entered the second-floor barber shop and found a room filled with graffiti art, weed smoke, and deep-based Latino hip hop music, I knew I’d found the right place. Cultural experience aside, it ended up being an above par haircut!

Based on my experiences, here’s an interesting thing about barber shop guys. They seem to embody an energy of masculine tough-guy pride and, yet, are clearly meticulous with their appearance and gentle with their work. It’s not that these elements have to contradict each other, but I think they often do in people's minds. In particular, I’ve enjoyed barber shops in the Middle East because the bantering and posturing is nearly theatrical. A lot of "bro talk." Yet, I get a hot towel on my face and a neck rub following the shave. Something about it makes me feel like I’m living the God Father life.

Today I took Finn into the heart of Sharjah to get a haircut; our usual barber is in Egypt, so we had to venture into new territory. The guy who did Finn’s hair is from Turkey and, as I found out later, the owner of the shop. I watched as he snipped single hairs at a time and carefully applied gel in the final stages. Finn was stoked with the result and blurted out, “Sweet!” as he examined himself in the mirror. Everyone in the shop nodded their heads and laughed. It felt like appreciation, not mockery.

As Finn and I wandered back to our car, I found myself wondering how much better the world would be if masculinity and gentleness weren't so often seen as mutually exclusive.

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