Haircut in Istanbul by
(125 Stories)

Prompted By Haircuts

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Cyd Charisse

We must have looked pretty scruffy when we pulled into Istanbul, after three months of travel through Africa.  It had started in a rather offhand manner.  I was burned out after nine years in the Community Health Center, and decided to take advantage of an (upaid) “sabbatical”, with no plan other than taking a break.  Farasha, Sally’s ex-classmate from Arabic class had visited Berkeley earlier that year and groused that “no one ever comes to see her” in Botswana, where she worked for US AID. So we decided to change that.

Sally called me Cyd Charisse, but the hairdo was the only resemblance.

Armed with the discounter’s open leg airplane ticket, “Africa on a Shoestring” (precursor to Lonely Planet), many rolls of slide film, a convertible Eagle Creek suitcase-backpack, and a vague notion of exactly where we would go after landing in Botswana, off we went. It was late 1989.  After logging many adventures and revelations as we traveled from Botswana, to Zimbabwe, to Kenya, to Tanzania and on to Egypt, we arrived in the very European Istanbul.  During our travels, the “Pretty Big One” earthquake had rocked the Bay Area during the World Series at Candlestick Park and shut the Bay Bridge, the Berlin Wall had come down, and the USSR was falling apart.  Not that it was easy to follow the news in those pre-internet days.

My dad had given me the name of a Turkish family he knew from work, and encouraged me to contact them when we arrived.  So we did, with some reticence about imposing on strangers. The mother welcomed us effusively and we met Banu, her English-speaking daughter who was soon to start medical school.  With Turkish warmth, she pressed food on us and almost seemed disappointed we had already organized a place to stay.  Was there any place we wanted to visit or do, anything they could do to help us?

Sally, Banu and me (pre-haircut)

Well, maybe she could recommend a place to get a haircut?  She lit up—oh yes, of course!  She made a quick phone call and Banu led us down a few streets to the family hairdresser.  We submitted to the fellow, who enthusiastically shampooed, cut, coiffed, styled and sprayed us beyond recognition.  I ended up with some bouffant confection–Sally called me Cyd Charisse.  What did we owe him?  “No, no, no charge!”  We were confused, until Banu explained that providing haircuts to out of town visitors was a tradition of hospitality for them.  Who knew?

The next day, Banu took us all over Istanbul seeing the sights, and we had a great time together.  At some point, she also confided to us that her mother had been furious with the hairdresser, who ended up charging her the price for foreigners.


Me with the proud Turkish hairstylists showing off their work. Yikes!!!

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Such an exotic story, Khati. I love the Cyd Charisse reference. That must have been quite a surprise for you in 1989! But also a relief to get a good wash and haircut. Interesting cultural differences about the hairdresser not charging you, but the mother later protesting and money changing hands, while you got a wonderful tour guide. Your whole trip sounds like quite an adventure. I’m so grateful that you are sharing these with us.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    That’s one haircut story that will stand out from all of the rest, Khati. What an interesting adventure.

  3. What a delightful story, Khati! I laughed out loud at your description of the hairstyle rendering you “beyond recognition.”

    And by the way, I noticed your reference to slide film. Was that your choice because of the color range or positive (what you see is what you get) aspect or for some other reason? Just curious.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      We chose slides because we wanted to capture the light of the places we visited, but now we have to figure out how to view the pictures–will have to transfer to some digital technology, and we don’t have prints. But the slides were lovely.

  4. Marian says:

    Most exotic haircut locale ever, Khati, and what a relief to have it done, even the though the final appearance might have been questionable. Sounds like a great adventure all around!

  5. Risa Nye says:

    Great story! This reminds me of the time I had to find Turkish tampons. I don’t think there will be a prompt for this, however. Anyway, getting your needs met in unfamiliar circumstances makes for an interesting story!

  6. Suzy says:

    Wow, Khati! (Your stories inspire more “wows” from me than anyone else’s.) This is such a wonderful and exotic story, I’m glad our prompt made you think of it. But why was Banu’s mother furious? Because the hairdresser didn’t charge you at all, or because he charged her the price for foreigners instead of what she normally paid?

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Suzy, sorry that wasn’t clear. She was furious because he charged her for our haircuts, but at the higher rate he used for foreigners. I think she ultimately changed hairdressers after that. Hospitality gone awry 🙂

  7. Dave Ventre says:

    Wow! What a journey. You clearly have an adventurous soul.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      The journey was indeed quite something. I went with few expectations, and I think that helped–continual surprises and mostly delights. If people ask whether or not they should travel or do something, I always recommend “yes”–you never know if you will have that opportunity again. Life is short and time is swift.

  8. Providing haircuts is just a basic expectation of hospitality! Wow! I was always told I would love visiting Turkey; now I know why. I like how you deposited us (the readers) in Istanbul, then went back and traced “our” journey up to that point and the reason for the trip in the first place. It was a very good way to engage interest.

  9. John Shutkin says:

    As others have noted, Khati, what a great and truly exotic story. I loved the background, and yet wondered when it would touch upon the haircut theme. Well, you sure delivered on that beautifully. Of course, the payoff last paragraph made me wonder what the seemingly lovely “tradition” really was about: maybe just to always hit on the guest’s host for the cost (and then some). Or am I just being a cynical American?

    Also loved the reference to Cyd Charisse, whom I always think of more as a dancer than an actress (and who, in fact, overcame polio as a child).

    • Khati Hendry says:

      In this case, the host was willing to pay at the usual price, but got held up because we were foreigners—the nerve! I looked for a better picture of the pouffy hairdo she had but couldn’t download the best. Yes, dancing was her forte despite early polio—we sure were desperate for that vaccine too!

  10. Khati, your Istanbul experience brings back memories of a trip my then wife and I made in 2000; we spent three days there at the front end of a cruise that wound up in Athens after stops in Ephesus and Rhodes. Anyway, the hairdresser’s shenanigans were like what we experienced; with another couple we had booked the services of a guide – “the concierge of Turkey”. Who got payoffs from the restaurants where he steered us. But it didn’t take away from the delights of Istanbul. Thanks for triggering the good memories.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Turkey and Istanbul are remarkable places—but certainly struggling now. We travelled there a lot over the years, driving through remote areas as well as the usual tourist spots—the mercantile skills exist everywhere, but wane significantly the further afield you go. Helps to have a sense of humor.

  11. So much for that part of travel that’s lost in translation! But sounds like you had a wonderful trip!

    Now I’’ll wait for a relevant prompt to write about my son who got kidney-stoned in Istanbul!

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