Monday, January 29, 2007


I don't know why it is that the small, neighborhood barber shops are always populated with young men who seem to just be hanging out. The shops I am familiar with usually have on hand their two or three barbers--Bangladeshis, Tamils, Keralites, et al.--in addition to two or three other young compatriots. They sit quietly against the back wall, hang outside the front door or just wander in and out. Sometimes they'll chat with the barber, until he needs to turn away to attend to a customer. That would be someone like me.

These little salons are like relics of times soon to go by, an endangered species on the UAE's quickly modernizing urban landscape. Haircuts go for as little as 10 dirhams, and at times you get what you pay for--a quick, no-frills chop and a shave of questionable hygienic standard. Often, however, you leave with not only a good trim but a complete, invigorating experience.

You are likely to get a close, attentive shave with multiple fresh razors, followed by a spicy aftershave and a good facial rubdown. Next comes a brief, but thorough, massage to head, shoulders, back and arms. There is also the standard, but not-to-be-recommended neck popping. The experience can really amount to a rather extensive, one-stop solution for the man who needs a makeover.

For years I had a favorite barber, who spent up to an hour performing his craft. And that is exactly what it was. He was a barber, his father in Bangladesh a barber and I wouldn't doubt that his grandfather had been one, too. One day, however, he was gone--not on leave, but on an indefinite return back to his homeland. I didn't imagine I would easily find another who could replace him. His skill at giving me just the right cut--and all the little frills--had been, by my reckoning, second to none.

With no alternative, I sought out a salon I had gone to once or twice some years earlier. As expected, the cut I was to get would not be up to my favorite barber's standard, but that was made up for by the excellent service I got at the discretion of the young barber. The eager young man sat me down in a chair in one corner, curtained-off the rest of the salon and turned on a little counter top TV giving me the choice of channel. "This is going to be nice," I thought, and indeed it was.

He followed the trim and shave with a cool, tingling facial and then began the routine massage. Unfortunately it was time for the mid-day break and his colleagues began urging him on. So the massage was abbreviated. Still, it was more than I had expected, and worthy of the wonderful salon attendant's craft that I have come to appreciate in this country. "How much," I asked, prepared to give him whatever he requested. "Thirty-five dirhams," he replied. I gave him 50.

That was far too many days ago. I was looking forward to my next visit, but it was one of those bad hair days that meant I couldn't put off going to the barber any longer. Not on my home turf I had to once again find a new place. Since I was in the Dubai Marina I thought I'd see what was on offer there. There is one side of the Marina where a few of the newly completed towers have small shops on the ground floor. This would probably be cheaper, I thought, than in the more upscale Marina Walk area.

I entered the one salon for men, but no one was in attendance. It was just as well, as I spotted the service menu which read, "Haircut only, Dhs 85." "Eighty-five dirhams! No way," I thought as I made a hasty exit. It was time to head for the cheaper side of town.

That led me to Satwa where a came upon a few shops located within a single block. "Now, which shall I go with," I wondered. My instincts, as it turned out, were not very good that day. What I got was a quick, gruff job. I passed on the shave, and the usually pleasant massage was more a rough smudging of the face and a few hard pats on the head. The barber asked for Dhs 15. I gave him 20, and thought I can't wait till my hair grows out again so I can return to my newly favored barber to get that special salon treatment.

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rosh said...

Did you know in the late 70's and early 80's the barbers charged 5 Dhs for a neat haircut - which moved to 8Dhs and now 10Dhs. And if you are regular customer - they'd order a nice tea with (rainbow milk)for ya , back then : )

Anyhow, you've identified a prime example of the insane rise in cost and the varied costs for simialr services across the UAE today.

This is a lovely post, thank you.

Seabee said...

I had a favourite in Satwa too, but they sold out and the new owners were more sheep shearers than barbers. I went once, had a terrible haircut and didn't go back. I guess others did the same because they closed down after a couple of months.

I found one in Jumeirah that I'm happy with - he isn't cheap but it's the same price that I payed in Sydney so I'm sticking with him.

B.D. said...

Honestly, I can't blame the Dubai Marina shop for trying to charge so much, considering they are probably paying high rent to be in that location. But the UAE is still in a unique position to have its Carre Fours and giant malls while still having its quaint and inexpensive little shops. Still, the Dubai of 10 years hence will probably have lost these.