Close Cut

Adana barber Ali Alici talks shop.

By / December 2011

Ali Alici cuts hair at Kuafor Sahin, a small barber shop in northwestern Adana on Turgut Ozal Boulevard, a street with wide sidewalks lined by shops, banks, and cafes. When business lulls, Ali lounges in front of his shop, talking with friends or playing backgammon. I stopped in to chat with Ali about life behind the barber’s chair.

How long have you been cutting hair and how did you get into it?
I’ve been in this business for 28 years. Growing up in Ismaliye, a small village near Incirlik Air Base on the edges of Adana, my family had a field where we grew wheat, cotton, and corn. But when I was 12, after I finished elementary school, I began a three-year apprenticeship to a master-barber. I did things like sweep the floors, fetch tea, clean the barber’s coat, and just watch him work. I didn’t get any pay, but I learned about the profession. After that I slowly began cutting hair.

What was the hardest part about learning to cut hair?
You can only watch for so long. Eventually you have to start doing it. It was very difficult at first using the clippers and electric shears. The master-barber was so fast and made it look easy, but I started out very, very slowly. I had to get used to the feel of the clippers and shears in my hands.

Who were some of your first customers?
My friends and family were very supportive. They would let me cut their hair and would not get upset if I made a mistake. Also, parents would let me cut their little boys’ hair. Sometimes if somebody came in while the master-barber was busy and they didn’t want to wait, they would ask me to give them a shave or a haircut.

How did you build up your own clientele?
I was very careful and attentive to my first customers. They would come back and request me even if the master-barber was available. Then they would tell their friends to come to me as well. When I moved to a new barber shop, some of my customers would still make the trip. My new neighbors became my customers. The owner of the convenience store next door became a regular. In return I would shop at his store. It was a way for neighbors to help each another.

How have you seen hairstyles change over the years?
When I started in this business, all the men had basically the same short haircut. Some liked it a little shorter, some a little longer, but basically it was the same. Nowadays, there is no such thing as a normal or unusual haircut. Some wear it really long, others like their hair cut really short. There is no standard haircut anymore.

When a customer comes in for the first time, what is the most important thing to you?
Finding out what they want and giving it to them. If I have to, I ask three or four times to make sure I understand what the customer wants. I am the expert. I have to be able to give them what they ask for. When they are happy, they come back.

What do your customers talk about while they are here?
We talk about politics, sports, daily events, life. It’s like they become my friends.

How about when there are no customers, what do you do then?
Sometimes we read the paper, listen to the radio, or watch TV. We’ll also sit outside and talk to people who are walking down the sidewalk. Someimtes we’ll play tavla [backgammon] with customers or friends who stop by. But you have to watch out for Shahin [Ali’s business partner]. He’s sharp and he’s a gambler [he laughs].

Have you always been in Adana?
No. I did my askerlik [mandatory military duty for males in Turkey] when I was 20 years old. I also worked in Saudi Arabia for 12 years.

Tell me about your askerlik.
I did 18 months of army service in Edirne [a large city in European Turkey, west of Istanbul]. I served as a truck driver and a tank crew member. My job in the tanks was to load the shells into the big gun. I also worked as a barber for the other soldiers.

How did cutting hair in the army compare to your previous experience?
There was a barber shop on post, but since it was usually busy, I would cut hair for members of my unit. I had to cut their hair in our unit’s building, not the barber shop. If they were poor I did not expect any pay.

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