Some bloggers write about the UNESCO sites they’ve visited. Other bloggers write about every plane they’ve boarded. I choose to document many overlooked areas of travel. The first is obviously pho. The second is espresso. Another is golf courses. Yet another is sports stadiums. And the final one, albeit a bit bizarre, is getting haircuts abroad. The fascination started when I lived in Shanghai. I would wander the back alleys off of Nanjing Xi Lu looking for a shifu that could get the job done on the cheap. 20 RMB (roughly $3) was the best I could find, though 30 RMB (roughly $4.40) was offered by more barbers in more convenient locations.
When I went to Boracay, Philippines, I found the deal of a lifetime: a haircut and shave with a proper razor for $2. When I lived in Mongolia, the price was a steep $4. Even in NYC, I would head to ChinaTown for the $5, cash only, special. In Abu Dhabi, I received a shave while at the Etihad Lounge.
I never thought about posting about my personal grooming experience until I wrote Fair Or Foul? Cutting Your Hair in a Hotel Room and a reader, Rio, commented: Of all people, why not go for a local experience. It costs a fraction of what you’d pay in the US (think $2) and you’re contributing to the local economy. Plus, it can be wonderfully entertaining.
Rio didn’t know that I have been doing this for years. And I have the pictures to prove it. With that, here is my first installment of Haircuts Abroad: Marseille Edition.
Steps away from the Vieux Port in Marseille is an area with a significant population of Algerians and Moroccans. Besides the vendors outside of Orange Vélodrome football stadium, this is where you’ll find the best street food in Marseille. After a kebab lunch, it was time for a haircut. On a side street, I found Coiffure Athena. The first hurdle in getting a haircut abroad is figuring out what the price will be. Here, the prices were clearly displayed on the window so there was no need to bargain or discuss the price. The next obstacle is to convey what kind of haircut I want. The clipper length I prefer is #1 and the length is 3mm. It is imperative that I see the clipper guard before the barber starts because #1 may be conveyed as 1mm, which is not a good look. Here, the barber only spoke French and a dialect of Arabic that I cannot understand. Fortunately, my sign language skills were sufficient i.e., I rubbed my head all over to indicate cut it the same everywhere and held up one finger for the clipper number.
The experience was pretty funny. While he was cutting my hair, he was also watching an Arabic soap opera. Every few seconds, he would pause to laugh or groan at the developments of the show. After he was done with the clippers, the skillful barber used a razor to touch up the sides, front, and the back. I was a bit nervous that he casually used the razor while continuing to watch his stories. The result was the best haircut I have ever had. Though the 8 euros I spent was higher than the usual deals, it was well worth it.