Culture Shock 13: American Expat Receives Terrifying Haircut at Turkish Hairdresser in Germany

turkish salon hairdresser store front
“Welcome to Turktown, my friend.” — Photo by Will Flavell (http://www.flickr.com/photos/swept14/)

As you may already know, I’ve been having some trouble getting haircuts here in Germany. I’m still learning the metric system, and the fact that a centimeter in length is nowhere near as long as an inch. Also, I speak in broken German, so when I want a ‘high fade,’ it sounds like I’m asking for a ‘lofty shrivel.’

Out of frustration, I asked my wife to write a note describing, in perfect German, the kind of haircut I wanted. This note worked wonderfully at first; I walked into my usual ‘Fast Cuts,’ handed the note over to the goth chick with the bad forearm tattoos, and received a decent version of the haircut described. Unfortunately, because it involved scissors — in addition to the usual electric razor — the price jumped from €9 euros to €22 euros. I felt this was a bit extreme, so I vowed to try a different hairdresser.

funny big hair dork nerd geek man german
“Heeeey Joe, where you goin’ with that note from your wife of your hand?” — Photo by Todd Ordes (http://www.flickr.com/photos/toddomanbot/)

A month later, with my hair so big and puffy I looked like a member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, I walked into a little hairdresser around the corner from our apartment. Now, this was a Turkish hairdresser, and it was full of burly Turkish men who were doing more horsing around and shit talking than actual hair cutting. You can imagine the blank stares I got when I handed my note to one of the three hairdressers. This particular gentleman chuckled, making it clear he could not read it. (To this day I am unsure if he truly was illiterate in German, or if he was just being a dick.) A young Turkish kid jumped up from the waiting area and proudly read my note aloud to the entire room. Everyone had a nice laugh about it. The hairdresser nodded his understanding, repeated “Funf miiILLLlliiimeters” to dramatic effect, and gestured for me to sit in the barber chair.

What followed was a scary clusterfuck of English, German and Turkish, if you were to translate everything directly into English:

HAIRDRESSER: “So, where you come from?” *Proceeding to attach the appropriate extension onto an electric razor and peel my scalp like a Doner kebab.*

ME: “I come from the ‘ooo-ess-ahh,’ uh, America… Portland, Oregon, correct? It is up, northwest…” *Gesturing upward and to the left with both hands in the air.*

HAIRDRESSER: *With a thick Turkish accent and a hint of mockery* “Ah, oooohkay, Mr. America.”

*Once the sides and back of my head were shaved, he attached a smaller extension and cut around my hairline. That’s when I noticed the straight razor on the counter. Close proximity to weapons any kind send me directly into fight-or-flight mode, so if someone were to menace me with one, I would either break that person’s wrist and stomp on their brain… or run screaming like a little girl in a tutu with a caterpillar on her arm.*

straight razor shave germany
“Sir? Sir… Is this absolutely necessary?” — Photo by Chris Michaels (http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisamichaels/)

 ME: “So, uh… from where come you, formally speaking? I mean, well then, from come you where?”

HAIRDRESSER: *Gesturing to one of the other hairdressers and speaking in Turkish* “I come from him.” *Everyone started laughing for some reason.*

ME: “I don’t understand… I mean, I understand not.”

HAIRDRESSER: “Turkey.”

*That was when the hairdresser picked up the straight razor, at which point I became visibly nervous, my complexion fading from ‘Ivory Apprehension’ to ‘Eggshell Uncomfortable.’*

HAIRDRESSER: *Smiling and bringing the razor close* “Don’t move, eh?”

ME: “Ha ha… ‘kay.”

*The hairdresser proceeded to shave around the perimeter of my hairline, focusing mostly on the back of my neck. He moved the razor in quick little strokes, handling its edge with feline grace. I made the mistake of picturing how easily he could take my eye out, or how quickly he might give me a Sweeney Todd, and it was then my complexion faded from ‘Eggshell Uncomfortable’ to ‘Chartreuse Sputum.’*

HAIRDRESSER: “You for which president, George Bush or Barack Obama?”

george w bush as monkey ripping up constitution
“Choose wisely. Your life depends upon it.” — Image by DonkeyHotey (http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/)

ME: *Thinking frantically, Which president is least likely to have messed with Turkey? My life is on the line here, and I’ve got a 50/50 chance of survival.* “…uh, Barack Obama.”

HAIRDRESSER: *Shouting* “MOTHER FUCKER!”

ME: *Oh my God, I am going to die.* “What? I don’t know! Who do you like?” *Thinking, Did the President bomb Turkey lately? Why don’t I follow the news back home more closely? Please put the razor down, please put the razor down…*

HAIRDRESSER: *After rattling off some particularly guttural Turkish and gesturing toward the TV in the corner, I understood this man was mostly kidding, but did, in fact, prefer George Bush.* “So, it is ‘Fuck Bush’ then, eh, Mr. America?”

ME: “I… I really don’t know man.” *Now more mystified than terrified, thinking, Why in the sweet fires of hell would a Turkish man support George W. Bush?*

*The haircut concluded in merciful silence, with me in no way comforted, and the hairdresser wearing a shit-eating grin. He showed me the back of my head with a handheld mirror, I nodded my approval and we approached the cash register.*

HAIRDRESSER: “So! That will be thirty euros!”

*I paused, wallet in hand, thinking, That is way more expensive than I had anticipated, but one cannot be frugal when shopping for uncut throats.*

HAIRDRESSER: “I kid! From me to you. It is eight euros.”

ME: “Eight euros, okay.” *Thinking, That is way cheaper than I had anticipated.*

*I tipped him an extra euro (which is actually a really nice tip here in Germany), wished him a good day and shagged-ass right the hell out of there.*

funny running man
“Thankyouseeyoulaterhaveaniceday!” — Photo by FaceMePLS (http://www.flickr.com/photos/faceme/)

When I came home, I went into the bathroom, looked in the mirror and discovered I’d received what was absolutely the best haircut I’d had in Germany thus far. Maybe it was so good because I finally had my hair cut by a man, and who better than a man to understand the subtleties of a man’s haircut? Maybe Turkish hairdressers are just really talented? I don’t know, and I shan’t question my good fortune. However, it wasn’t so long ago I would have laughed had you suggested I might someday move to Germany and switch political parties at the provocation of a knife-wielding Turk.

Click here to learn more about the term “Culture Shock.”

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129 thoughts

      1. I got long hair, and even at my age I can get away with my hair dropping nearly as much down as my b…s :P
        Though I can vaguely remember times when hair surpassed the bs on their way down.
        Gravity does exist – and time is proof of that. It seems to work differently on hair and bs though :(

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      2. First I sad, my hair drops down nearly as far as my b.. _ you answered: Haw haw haw haw! I thought it was just me!
        And now I am wondering, if you have catholic breasts, too – you know, that kind that, when you open the bra, drop to the knees .. ;P

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    1. Dude, I was TOTALLY gonna say this, and he beat me to it! This is some funny shit, man, for real! If you screenwrote this expat sitcom this way, I would totally watch it! The part that kills me (even more than the rest) is when you hand him your note from your German wife, telling him exactly what you want, in German! Hilarious! It is so like a schoolboy, taking a note to his teacher. I bet you do sometimes feel like a child over there, not completely understanding everybody. If I’m ever over there again, I will look you up, you and I will go have a bier at a biergarten, and we will speak to each other in ‘Murican, dammit!!! LOL. Keep ’em comin’, buddy!

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      1. Hey thank you for the kind words, Blitz.

        I have considered writing a screenplay based upon the experiences my wife and I have accrued over the past few years. I think it is highly likely that I will wrote one, and you — my awesome readers — will be the first to see it. (Right after my German wife, of course.)

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  1. rofl, this posting was freaking awesome. i have a vivid imagination and i could almost feel myself the blade on my through………..hahaha

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  2. Getting a haircut while traveling can be an interesting experience.

    I got an excellent cut in Italy, everything fine until it came to settle up. He was asking for more than the haircut + beard trim on the sign. Finally Jean popped up with “OH! He gave you a ‘style’.” If you encounter a barber in Tuscany whose only English is “Ees STYYYYYL!”, you now know where he learned it.

    In Japan the showmanship is amazing. Hot towels being snapped, tossed, wrapped & used to massage your scalp, Barbers discussing the right instrument to use. A bit of humor that transcends language issues. A wonderful cut & experience.

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  3. I am also in need of a haircut and probably have been for months but I am afraid my long hair will be shaved off and I will look like a celebrity having a meltdown… Lol this was hilarious to read!

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  4. Great post! I totally relate, only I had a Mozambican hair dresser who cut off my locks. But unlike you, I didnt get my happy ending. They gave me a mullet. Had to hide in the bush for at least a year before going public!

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  5. this is hilarious!
    “one cannot be frugal when shopping for uncut throats.” :D

    as for the haircut-in-germany problem: i know how you feel. i lived my entire life here, and changed hairdressers, every single time.

    so – at the risk of your life – would you revisit them?

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  6. I had a very similar experience here in Munich with a Turkish frisseur – only my neck stung for days afterwards. 8€ here too. Did they offer you free hot tea? I think that´s what it was….(Funny enough, I moved here from PDX as well about 5 months ago… – luv the blog; keep it up!)

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      1. I lived (and still own a house actually) in inner NE PDX – kinda near the Wonder Ballroom. Lived there 13 years…. Whereabouts were you living?

        I think the neck sting was simply slightly dull straight razor with no lotion or whatever applied. This last time I put some shaving creme on it afterwards and it seemed to do the trick….

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  7. So there is only one moral then to this story: You will have to go back to the Turkish hairdresser for your next cut as he was both, the cheapest and the best. Hmmmm, what a conundrum! Maybe you could just pretend to have defected to the Republican camp. Or you try and educate the guy that the likes of W would love his Turkish bottoms deported back to Turkey if they could. So many options…

    By the way, living in Africa now I have yet to brave an African hairdresser. I simply don’t need my hair braided or straightened…

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      1. How did your friends react: You’re living in EUROPE now? What the hell!?

        Ah, you know, it’s actually quite nice: warm and sunny year round and way more relaxed than Germany. Plus, I don’t mind cockroaches, so I’m good!

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      2. I live in Cape Verde now. I know, zou have no idea where that is, no-one does. It’s a group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the western coast of Senegal. Oh for crying out loud, just look it up :)

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  8. Thanks for the happy ending. Thought it would be another disaster. Did you get the visual dictionary I told you about?

    LG Anja

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      1. Oh wow I feel with you. I’m taking a TEFL class this summer at the CSULB. It is very interesting, lots of fun but also hard work. LG Anja

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  9. As a German, I have been working with Muslims for years, and I can assure you they are pretty harmless. At least none of them has exploded around me so far. Watching a Turkish hairdresser wield a razor means watching an expert at his job. ^^

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  10. Snort! My Brasilian husband once got the WORST haircut of his life in Puerto Rico. His accent leads people to think he speaks Spanish, not Portuguese. The barber rattled off something that sounded like “Eschebe?” and G nodded. Came out looking like an egg. I mean “huevo.” We still laugh about that!

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  11. I go to ‘Cut Club’ which is between the tram stops Marienstraße and Braunschweiger Platz :-) It’s 12€ for all hair cuts, and so far I’ve had no bad experiences out of the three times I’ve been!

    Glad you got what you wanted in the end though, despite the fear of whether you were actually going to get out alive at all!

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      1. I’ve always spoken German but tell them at first that it’s not my mother tongue. So most of the sessions are me nodding/shaking my head/pointing at different parts of my head. Seems to work though despite how unorganised it sounds!

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      2. Urm I think it’s B2/C1, more leaning on C1; I study German and have been learning it for 10 years, if you include the school lessons where we only learnt words and phrases!

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      3. I’m afraid I wouldn’t say I have any good tips with the 10 years advantage I have! I know one thing I do do is try and learn 5 words/phrases a day (from conversations or from reading, such as the news on the Straßenbahnen) and then try and use them in conversations!

        Otherwise, just practise, practise, practise! How long have you been learning?

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      4. Hey Dan,

        I started learning on my own and with books, computer programs and a little community college class back at the very start of 2011, so when I arrived in Germany I had about 1.5 years of German language training. As of today, my total language training time (including my new A1 integration course) is 2.5 years. This is, hopefully, why I am a bit ahead of the rest of my A1 class, but still not conversant. Definitely not fluent.

        I keep a daily list as well, so thank you for mentioning that.

        I’ve said it many times over, but if I could give all of my life’s savings to download the entire German language into my brain like in the Matrix, I would do it in a heartbeat.

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  12. I’ve given up. I’m growing my hair like a heavy metal guitarist again. Your bravery is admirable, my dear man.
    Question – did he have a strop to sharpen his straight razor? I have a magnificent straight razor but alas, do not have the strop to sharpen it on.

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  13. Hello! Brick House Chick sent me over here and I’m so glad she did. What a great storyteller you are, I’m just sad it was at such a deathly cost. And here I thought my experience in the Korean jimjilbong was interesting…LOL

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  14. Fantastic! I cannot pass by a Turkish hair salon in Mainz without there being at least 5 dudes in there sitting around, presumably, bs-ing. I commend you on your bravery; I too am frightened they would perhaps give me the haircut of my life! :-D

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  15. Okay… here we go… this was by far the best and funniest hair-dresser story I’ve heard and I was really laughing tears…
    You made yourself a new friend! Go back there for the next haircut before he’ll be insulted that you didn’t. *grin*

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  16. Rofl, it’s like my husband going to a Dutch/Moroccan hairdresser. I could help him then. Now we live in Mexico and with both our Spanish being like your German, he is on his own…

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  17. My husband was talked into visiting our friend’s Turkish hairdresser once here in Austria. He was fine until the guy took out a lighter and held it in his ears. Apparently ear-hair burning is a thing.

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  18. LOL , that was hilarious.
    For years I’ve been living here in Japan, I think I have visited a hair salon 2 times only . The first one was to have my hair straightened which took more than 6 hours and the next was to get a haircut. The second visit, i told the girl to cut about 2-3 inches of my hair from the bottom but she thinks I have too much hair and decided to cut it too short for my taste.

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  19. I had a similar experience last year. Mine was somewhat compounded by the fact that I am an Army veteran and did multiple tours in Iraq. Which my barber listened to happily before grabbing the razor and proclaiming, “I am also from America, from the state of Iraq.” I thought I hid my panic pretty well, but not well enough because he then said, “Just relax, it’s no problem.” Like you, that was the best damn haircut I’ve had in country and I now patronize that establishment regularly.

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  20. That was hilarious! It reminds me a bit of my first, and only, professional haircut in the Czech Republic. No straight razors involved, but I’m surprised I walked away with both ears.

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  21. You really need to learn how to cut your own hair. Watch like 4 hours of youtube videos like I did.

    Now I got hair like fucking Fabio….if Fabio had short brown hair…..and a fade.

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  22. sehr lustig man :) Me? I’m still looking for the perfect haircut, preferably by a Turkish man barber cause the Germanistic styles these days kind of look … hmmm weird. And I’d love to be able to just walk into a barbershop, sit down, read a bit and then sit down in the chair and get it done … all without having to make appointments.

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  23. Nice story man, I’ve been living in Hannover for 3 months and I still haven’t ventured to get my hair cut. Mind sharing where this place is?

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  24. Nice story man. I’ve been living in Hannover for 3 months and I still haven’t ventured to get my hair cut. Mind sharing where this place is? I’m getting to the point where almost any hairstyle is better then mine now.

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  25. Oh yes, turkish humour can be challenging sometimes, but if you get used to it, it can be funny ; D I am actually a turk and I can understand that you felt like you had the best haircut. If there is one profession the turks are good at (apart from cooking food) it is shaving and cutting hair ;)

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  26. ROFL! This is wonderful – and now I really want to visit this Turkish hairdresser myself, just for the experience. *g*

    I went to a hairdresser who refused to cut my colleague’s hair becxause of a disagreement over the desirable style, once; he expressed his horror at what she wanted him to do, told her her sweater “wasn’t her” either, and then sent her away because he was now completely creatively blocked, thanks. He gave me an *excellent* haircut and a hugely entertaining show – kept inspecting me with narrowed eyes and enthusing “es wird! es wird!” – but then I didn’t try to argue with him. *g*

    But I have to tell you something that may scare you: I am German, I get my hair cut, and experience and cultural instinct tell me that 1 EUR is, in fact, not a good tip for a hairdresser, particularly not one as cheap as your Turkish one. When I go to a very cheap hairdresser, I usually tip at least 3 and up to 5 EUR. A quick survey among my German friends and acquaintances has corroborated this…

    You are so lucky you got out quickly. :-)

    Like

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