Where do I start? Turkey is an amazing country. We have just finished our third week in Istanbul, and oh was it a week! We had our first reviews about our final design projects for our ferry stations we are designing in Eminönü. On top of trying to figure out our design concepts, we are trying to figure out what it means to be Turkish. I am certain 11 weeks will not be enough time to discover this definition. We are constantly being bombarded with foreign smells, sounds, and various other sensations. The constant scent of cooking dürüm in the streets, the sound of children and adults playing instruments for money; and the vast array of contemporary/modern/traditional garb that is worn are some of the things that I will never get used to. I have been fortunate enough to spend another birthday abroad, the love and support of family and friends 6000 miles away, and new friends I have made since this trip began. Each day is a new experience, I try to compare to past ones, but seem to fall short. The following is a brief telling of the “haircut” I received last night.
Me and another student, Doug, decided to wander and find a place to get our haircut together. He brought me to a salon in Taksim Square close to our apartments. The warrant for this shop was that it was filled with men, so we figured it would be a decent place for a couple of guys to get their hair done. Upon walking in we asked the price, 15 Turkish Lira for a haircut, ($6). So we took off all of our layers and art supplies and sat in the chair.
A man jumped up and came to my side and through broken English told me that he would be cutting my hair. He proceeded to point and touch my nose and cheeks and say “strips”. I understood this as blackhead strips, and gladly accepted seeing as I had no idea what was included in a haircut here. I figured if it was extra it couldn’t be THAT much. After applying the strips he pulls down a small tub and rubs my forehead and says, “Paste, good”. This is where I decline and figure he means a face scrub of some sort. He cuts my hair.
After my hair is cut he tells me to wait two minutes and gestures at the strips I have on my face and offers me çay (tea). I gladly accept what would most likely be my 6th çay of the day and we chat through his broken English and my even more broken Turkish. After çay (yes I use it as a verb) he pulls off the strips slowly and presents them for me to see and I nod and smile. He then rubs my forehead again and says, “Paste, REALLY good!” I look over at Doug a few chairs down who has strips on his face too and think,” well I’m in this for the long haul I guess” and accept the “good paste”.
He then applies a bright pink strawberry paste to my face and puts some thick cream in my hair and leaves for 15 minutes. I look over again at Doug and he looks at me covered in this mask and says, “how much are we paying for this?!” and I reply, “No idea.” When my barber returns he come with a rough sponge in hand and wipes my face clean. He then mixes up another brown concoction that resembles humus and spread this all over my face, and this one burns and turns rock hard.
He then wheels over this strange machine, fills it with water and puts it one foot from my face, and it all of a sudden starts shooting steam at me! I was so confused. He threw my head back onto the headrest and I steamed for 20 minutes with this burning paste on me. After my time was up the machine was wheeled over to Doug and my hair finally was washed and so was my face. If I remember correctly it was washed with 2 shampoos I would assume and a conditioner, so three times over. Then he wraps me in a towel and pulls my head up and it was the most refreshing feeling of my life! I had a massive smile on my face and I caught a glance of my barber and he chuckled.
He then began to “sculpt” my hair lightly with gel and told me I was finished. Once Doug was done we looked at each other with a “that was amazing!” glare and started to talk about how much that could have possibly cost. We decide there is no was that was over 70 TL ($25), we were mistaken. The man held up a calculator that says 130 TL ($50) and we think that is the price combined. That was 130 TL each, so 260 TL total, and we did not have that. At this point we begin to barter, and tell the man that we only wanted the haircut, and that’s all we had asked for when we walked in. So he says he will give us a deal, 240 TL. He then starts to hash out all the costs, 10 TL for each face strip, 25 TL for each face scrub…and so on. We continue to argue our case that we did not want all that, playing the dumb American card. So he drops the price to 220 TL, and we still say no way. We counter with a flat 200 TL ($80) and they accept.
All in all, considering the treatment we received, $40 each isn’t that bad, not what we had wanted in the first place, but it was an experience. Our faces are as soft as a baby’s bottom, we are literally glowing, and we have some pretty fresh looking haircuts. If language weren’t a barrier this would have never happened. I received my first spa-ish experience and have a pretty good story to tell. It is a learning experience, and next time I will deny the “strips” and “scrubs”. Time to go exchange more money.