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Published: June 26th 2014
Your author sitting in for a haircut and straight-razor shave
All barbers in Saudi are men, as are almost all workers. These workers are not Arabs, but foreigners. Mostly Indian and Filipinos but some other nationalities to fill the equal employment code no doubt.
These men do not hold certificates from beauty academies or a license of any kind. They appear to learn by doing, which can be a bit unnerving when he first puts a straight razor to your throat, but I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the outside.
A Saudi barbershop looks like any other Saudi building. A tan strip of run down little shops next to a petrol station with a heavy sliding gate that indicates if the shop is open or not, which is needed since they do not keep hours but open when they feel like it. Trash is piled up near the door unless the wind has blown it away. The door itself might fall off the hinges when you try to open it but most of the time it decides to stay on and just give an ear splitting scratch as you enter. The barbershop itself is a small, high dingy room with two chairs for those being served and a few filthy sofas for waiting guests. There might be a strong odor in the room or not, mostly depending on the temperature outside. A small, old television located in the corner fills the room with Bollywood programs.
As you sit for your turn you cannot help but notice that there are no disinfecting sprays or liquids. The towels used to shield you from your own hair are stained and were perhaps washed, once. A haircut is like a haircut anywhere. Straightforward with scissors, water, and a brush. All of which bring previous victims hair along to mingle with yours. When the gentleman is finished you realize that it was all so easy and fluid, that you might as well get a shave. You will need one since a beard is mandatory in the Kingdom. He leans you back, wraps you in the condemned towel, and then proceeds to disinfect the razor. This is accomplished by lighting it on fire with what appears to be perfume. It is the only sterilization performed, and yet it is done with such show that you cannot help appreciate it. After this he puts a new razor blade into the razor and proceeds to go to work. Some people fall asleep, some watch in the mirror, while I personally choose to drift through my own thoughts.
After you have paid the barber a modest sum and walk out the door a few things cross your mind. Is that the best haircut and shave I've ever had? What exactly does a certificate prove? Has anybody ever gotten sick, ill, or even had a rash from a barber here since they are so dirty and don't clean the instruments? These are questions you will have to answer for yourself. They are yes, obviously nothing, and not to my knowledge.
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