Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Pedicure for your Head

Think of it as half haircut, half chiropractic visit and half pedicure.

And it's all waiting for you at your neighborhood Riyadh barbershop.

OK, so I never was very good at math but I believe the ladies will know what I mean about the pedicure aspect when I explain what goes on.

Some would argue that a trip to the barber is wasted on me, but I still need to get rid of the shaggy stuff on the sides and back from time to time unless I want to look like a B-list Hollywood director.

Thus it is that we settle into the barber chair and signal to the barber that we'd like a "#1" cut. Nowadays, whether you're in Riyadh or Phoenix, barbers know how close to the scalp to go by a series of numbers. A #1 is as close as you can get. For me, it will take about five minutes but most barbers drag it out to 10-12 minutes to make us both feel like they're doing something more than shaving my head.

Now, watching a master barber from the Subcontinent go to work on a regular hirsute Saudi customer -- often in the late evening after prayer -- can be an excrutiating exercise in patience. He can easily spend 10 or 15 minutes after the main haircut making such ultra-fine clipping movements and razor cuts on his customer that you'd think he was giving a performance at the Met.

But it's after the Pakistani or Indian barber gets done fussing with his electric razor, clippers and straight razor, that the show really begins.

He starts by lightly oiling up his hands and giving your scalp a thorough 360-degree massage. That can go on for a couple minutes.

Next he cups his hands together and starts thwacking your head from ear to ear. It actually feels quite good though it looks bizarre.

Next he makes you lean forward and gives your upper torso a good massage.

Then he lifts up each arm and cranks it backwards and around in a circle.

After that he grabs your head, yanks it to one side and cracks your neck. Both ways.

Then it's back to your backside for another minute of massage.

Finally, you get a light dusting of talcum powder, and voila, "Ready for my closeup Mr. DeMille."

I really wish I could show you pictures of the whole operation but you know what they say: "What goes on in the haalagh stays in the haalagh."


"Ready for my closeup Mr. Demille" - Norma Desmond to newsreel camera in Sunset Boulevard



  1. I've lived my entire life in Saudi Arabia and I've never seen this.. Maybe the barber shop you went to "takes the extra mile"

  2. I get this, or similar treatment each time I visit a barber, usually a different one each time. Why don't you mosey on over to Al Farazdaq St. and try it out? :>)

    Even odder, they sometimes ask me how much I want to pay!

  3. I would love it if my barber gives me this kind of treatment every time I go there!
    Anyway there are two reasons to why I've never seen this before:
    1- I live in Dammam. So maybe it's more common in Riyadh. (?)
    2- I prefer Turkish barber shops more than Indians or Pakistanis but I'll try to visit an Indian barber to check.
    As for why they're asking you how much you want to pay, in my opinion, they want to take advantage of you being a foreigner so they assume you don't know the prices.

  4. Anon: You may be right about taking advantage, but since they seem happy with a paltry 10 SAR, I'm not sure who's taking advantage of whom.

    What I get a kick out of is walking down the street in the late evening and seeing the barber shops full of customers.

  5. Hi there. Interesting Blog you have up here. I agree about the VIP treatment you get "in-addition" to the haircut you pay for (again a paltry SAR 10!) But then thats just one of the better bargains of life in KSA!:)

  6. Thanks for the note CN. Do you have any experience with different nationalities, such as the subcontinent or Turkey?