Working as a barber in Turkey
At the time of the Ottoman Empire, anybody who wanted to be a barber had to pass a series of very tough practical exams. A man that decided to become a barber would first be tested by his neighbours to measure his composure under pressure and when making mistakes. Those quick to anger were not allowed to be a barber.
It sounds like old-school stories, doesn’t it? But that mentality still exists in Turkey. Being a barber is an important profession. There are several reasons for this. Some school children in Turkey start working with a master barber during the holidays. At this point, the child will not yet be considered an apprentice. But he begins to learn and to practice under the guidance of his master. As time passes, if the master accepts that this child has the skills to make it as a barber, then the child can become an apprentice. But it still takes many years for him to master his craft. If the master does not think the child has the necessary skills or temperament to succeed, then he will tell the boy’s family that the child cannot be a barber.
So, professional ethics come before experience in the barbershop. There is no rush to gain experience. However, it’s thought that professional ethics are within the person. Barbers should know how to behave according to their client. The sincerity of the relationship between the barber and the customer is very important. It is a relationship based on trust.
This is the main reason that Turkish barbers are preferred in other countries. A barber displays empathy, understanding and an interest in the lives of their clients. So, what’s the history of the barbershop?
During the Ottoman Empire, barbers were like peddlers. They didn’t have shops. Barbers would shave people in Turkish coffee houses or on the streets. Sometimes they would go to customers’ homes and shave them there. These barbers were called “Perukâr”. But the task of the Perukâr went beyond shaving. They also performed various medical tasks such as taking blood, performing small surgical interventions, cleaning wounds, dressing, extracting lice and cleaning hair, circumcision, and tooth extraction. Of course, nowadays barbers in Turkey do not do such things! However, if there is a small cut or nick, they are adept at curing or wound dressing.
The most important legacy of those ancient barbers is the relationship between the barber and his customer. To this day there is friendliness in the industry which is rarely seen elsewhere so, when you go to a barber who knows you, after shaving, you might say, ‘I don’t have money now, I will pay later’. The barber will smile and say, ‘Sure’ and you can walk out of the shop and come back later to pay. This friendly relationship is only available in neighbourhood barbers and is not possible in luxury barber shops.
Shaving and Grooming for Men
Barbers use a razor to shave. The razor is the barbers’ primary tool. To use it properly requires years of training and experience, and it should only be used by an expert. But barbers do not only shave hair and beards. If you have any unwanted hair on your face the barber can remove them using a thin string or other methods. They will massage and soothe your facial skin and, if necessary, apply a clay mask to your face to soften and care for your skin.
If you’re wondering what the razor is; remember, there was a shaving scene in James Bond’s Skyfall. Moneypenny shaved Bond’s face. Naomie Harris used a razor to give Daniel Craig a “Turkish style shave”. Naomie Harris was trained by real Turkish barbers for this scene.
In Turkey, you’ll see two different signs; male hairdressers and barber shop. There are big differences between male hairdressers and barbers. Male hairdressers are more luxurious and large shops. The intimacy of the barber shops is rarely found in the hairdressers. When you go to the men’s hairdresser, you talk about the most beautiful aspects of life; sports, girls etc. But the barber wants to listen to your deep troubles such as the girl you loved or the terrible failure you had at work. The barber laughs and cries with you.
Barber shops are not luxurious places, they are modest. Around 80% of barbers have a canary or similar bird in their shop. There is a washbasin right in front of the barbershop chair where both your hair and face can be washed. In the male hairdressers, you can sit on the chair and lean back to put your head in the washbasins and let the male hairdresser wash your head.
While you’re in Istanbul we suggest you go to a neighbourhood barbershop to understand and experience what we say. But take someone with you who speaks both English and Turkish fluently because it’s most likely that the neighbourhood barber doesn’t speak English. Without the chat, the full experience is incomplete for both you and the barber.