Another dot in the blogosphere?

Lessons from a barber

Posted on: December 21, 2011

I am a bit “old school” when it comes to cutting my hair. By this I do not mean that I cut my own hair. I am just particular about where I go for my haircut.

I grew up getting my hair cut only by Malay or Indian barbers. My father brought me to Malay barbers and I discovered Indian barbers on my own. I continue this practice with my son.

I like the unkempt but friendly look of most Malay barber shops. Some might not like the fact that there is cut hair everywhere and the barbers tools are not cleaned in between use. But I enjoy listening to the gossip and gentle ribbing that the barbers indulge in as they snip away.

My son appreciates the sweets that one “uncle” gives him at the end of each visit. He loves getting his hair gelled or styled after the haircut. I should explain that neither he nor I use hair products, so the monthly styling is a treat!

I enjoy the robust massage that an Indian barber gives at the end of a haircut. My son was recently surprised by the “slaps” on his back he received from an Indian barber working at a Malay-owned establishment.

I never thought I would step into a Japanese-chain barber shop. But I did so recently while in town and when my wife reminded me that both my son and I needed a haircut.

Anyone who has had a haircut at one of these establishments might be able to tell a similar story. When you step in, you are greeted in Japanese. You pay a flat fee ($10) in advance by feeding a machine which then spits out a card. Then you wait in line on numbered seats.

Before your haircut, the barber will clean his/her station with a duster and broom. All the hair from the previous customer gets sucked into a hole near the floor. Every cordless haircutting implement is sterilized, and as I found out later, you even get a comb assigned to you.

When it is your turn to get a haircut, you give the card to the barber, put your belongings into a cupboard behind the mirror, and if you have glasses, put them in a receptacle reserved just for them.

There is a place for everything and everything is in its place. Neat, tidy and clean. Even the conversation, if you have any, is neat, tidy and clean. You know what to call your barber because their names are on tags at each station. If you do not wish to chat, you can watch what is on the LCD screen positioned near your knees.

My first time at a Japanese-chain barber was a pleasant one. But I missed the warmth of a Malay barber and I did not pay less for my son (his haircut costs $8 at our regular Malay barber). Based on my limited observation, everyone walked out with a similar haircut. Clean and efficient the cut was, but I could not help but wonder if it was also one size fits all.

I wonder if folks who are resistant to integrating technology want the less efficient but warmer feel of the Malay barber type of teaching. Perhaps they think that technology makes it cold and clinical.

But I think that the Malay barbers can embrace technology and be no less warm. It would be easier for them to do this because they are already chatty and adaptable people. It might be more difficult for the Japanese-chain barbers to learn how to fake this sincerity.

As for me, I will be trying to convince my regular Malay barber to adopt some Japanese habits.

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