Around the World in 18 Barbers’ Chairs

Sitting in a barber shop in the coastal city of Split, Croatia, I struggled to answer the stylist’s simple question: How long were Shawn and I visiting Croatia? I had learned a smattering of Croatian words, but the names of the months had so far escaped me.

Remembering the calendar hanging above my head – albeit adorned with nude calendar girls – I flipped through the weeks and pointed to a date. As I exposed each month’s voluptuous model, the 70-something barber’s moustache-framed mouth curled into a mischievous grin. However awkward the method, I had satisfied his curiosity. Clearly I was in male territory, though.

The funny encounter got me reminiscing about all the haircuts Shawn and I have had around the world. With my naturally-curly hair, I’ve been more reluctant to get my hair coiffed, perhaps only summoning the courage in 8 countries. In contrast, Shawn has had his locks lovingly trimmed – even aggressively buzzed – in about 18 countries!

Along the way, we’ve learned how to perfect our miming skills such as the “Please only cut this much off” gesture. We’ve also picked up hair vocabulary like šišanje (Croatia), une coupe (France), and подстригване (Bulgaria).

Countries where Shawn has gotten a trim:

  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Bulgaria
  • Canada
  • Croatia
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Malta
  • Moldova
  • Montenegro
  • Philippines
  • Serbia
  • Thailand
  • Ukraine
  • USA
  • Vietnam

Shawn’s least-expensive haircut: Serbia at 270 Serbian Dinar ($2.50 USD), nearly tied with the Thai barber shop’s 100 Baht ($3 USD) fee. (These rates are even less than the lowest one mentioned in this round-up of haircut prices around the world.)

The priciest: Germany at 23 Euro (about $26 USD).

His shortest shearing (unexpectedly) occurred in: Bosnia-Herzegovina.

What the cuts had in common: People around the world taking pride in their work, despite there not always being a common language in which to communicate.

And as always, smiles went a long way when words failed to bridge the communication gaps.

A woman cuts a man's hair in Bangkok, Thailand.
Bangkok, Thailand.
A man cuts a man's hair in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria.
Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria. Shawn’s haircut here was excellent! This came as a relief because our train journey to Veliko Turnovo from the tiny town of Kalofer had been considerably more eventful. On a rather remote pass, the train unexpectedly stopped on the tracks. It was pitch black, and through our open window all we could hear were a symphony of crickets and a nearby stream. Moments later, a massive firework-like cluster of electrical sparks lit up the dark. It felt like the sparks were going to fly through the open window. A few minutes passed and we were on our way. It all happened on our anniversary, igniting a few more sparks in our marriage. :)
A man cuts a man's hair in a Split, Croatia barber shop.
Split, Croatia, just footsteps away from the incredible palace ruins of the Roman emperor, Diocletian.
Split, Croatia. The stylist told us that these vintage barber stools (left) are likely 80 years old. I think the mustard-hued seats and the headrest are mohair.
Chiang Mai, Thailand.
A price list for haircuts in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is posted on a barber shop wall.
Prices in Chiang Mai.
Prices for barber shop services in Thailand (left), and a woman cuts a man's hair in a Valletta, Malta hair salon (right)
Chiang Mai, Thailand services and prices (left) and a salon in Valletta, Malta (right). Since we called the Maltese capital home for one year, Shawn went to this kind stylist, Denise, for regular trims. She nicknamed him “Mr. California.”
A woman cuts a man's hair in Novi Sad Serbia (left), and a stylist cuts a man's hair at a salon in Pula, Croatia (right).
Novi Sad, Serbia (left), and Pula, Croatia (right). In Pula, we were wowed by the stylist’s grasp of English. As she snipped Shawn’s hair, she explained how she’d perfected her language skills by watching American TV shows like Friends and CSI. Her perfect posture was a dead giveaway that she was a dancer, and so it wasn’t surprising when she proudly shared how she participates in a traditional Croatian dance group.
A man cuts a man's hair at a barber shop in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. After Shawn’s cut, we stopped into a shop in the city’s famous Baščaršija district to buy lokum, gelatinous cubed treats also known as Turkish Delights. Our visit to Sarajevo coincided with the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, said to be the event that sparked World War I.
A woman cuts a man's hair in Tagbilaran, the Philippines.
Tagbilaran, Philippines.
Cahul, Moldova. Often touted as one of Europe’s least-visited countries, we spent about three wonderful weeks here. Moldova produces some excellent wine, and it is a former Soviet republic.
Kotor, Montenegro. Pretty Kotor is known for its dramatic fortifications, which wrap around the hillside above the town.
A man cuts a man's hair in Hoi An, Vietnam.
Hoi An, Vietnam. By night, the city is aglow with stunning handmade lanterns.
A man cuts a man's hair in Fort Kochi, India.
Fort Kochi, India, a pleasant gateway to Kerala’s famed backwaters, and a town where Shawn and I played dress-up with the locals.
A woman cuts a man's hair at a salon in Bangkok.
Bangkok, Thailand.
A woman cuts a man's hair in Lviv, Ukraine.
Lviv, Ukraine. A Ukrainian customer who happened to be in the salon helped translate our haircut preferences. This was the day before we rescued a kitten from a Lviv dumpster. We’d eventually travel 1,000 km (600 miles) with Cocoa the kitten, before he was eventually adopted by Claudine, a blog reader in Switzerland who has since become a special friend.
A woman cuts a man's hair in Santorini, Greece.
Santorini, Greece. Visiting the celebrated island in the spring months, we found this wonderful salon by chance as we were lugging groceries back to our apartment.
Split, Croatia. In the Mediterranean, barber shops, cafés, and bocce ball courts are popular spots for what I’ve dubbed man conventions, or “man-ventions”. :)

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All rights reserved.

20 thoughts on “Around the World in 18 Barbers’ Chairs

  1. I can’t believe you took pictures every time Sean got a haircut! Looks like he was lucky to get a good haircut every time. My hubby has a beard and he is very fussy about who cuts his hair and trims his beard. Not many are very good at it. He had an Italian barber in Canada who was excellent and cost more than the German cut Sean got. It took him a long time to find someone in Spain he is happy with and none has lived up to Frank, his treasured Italian barber. Glad to hear from you, Tricia. (funny, no pictures of you getting your locks trimmed!)

    1. Darlene, I was also surprised when we tallied up about 18 countries, and that I’d documented so many! Like your husband, I had a long-lasting hairdressing relationship with an Italian. Gino cut my hair for about 6 years when I lived in Germany, even styling it on my wedding day. I’ve had good cuts pre and post-Gino, but no one with that continuity.

      And you’re right about there not being any pictures of me in the chair. I think that’s due to my trimming apprehension and that I’m usually the shutterbug. Once I tiptoe into a few more salons abroad, I’ll ask Shawn to remedy that. :)

  2. Great to read another interesting and entertaining article, Tricia! Hope to read more😊! (We visited Malta in 2016 the same time you were there.)

  3. I hate having a hair cut. I don’t want them to chat to me. I just want to get it over with. Slightly less traumatic for me than going to the dentist. My favourite barber is an Italian in Galashiels in Scotland where I go once a year in August on golf tour. No fuss, no bother, no chat and all over in less than five minutes!

    1. Ah, Andrew, your comment likening a haircut to a dentist visit made me laugh. I guess I’ve had some trepidation about climbing into the dentist’s chair while in a new country. So far, I’ve only gone to the dentist in a few countries.

      Since you like a conversation-free hair cut, perhaps popping into foreign barber shops where you don’t speak a common language is just your tempo, so eliminating the need to make small-talk. :)

  4. That’s awesome! Jer always gets his hair cut when we travel too. I never thought to take pictures until our last trip. I think it was just as entertaining to the locals as it was to us. I love that you’ve documented this part of your travels. ❤️

    1. Hi Bobbi, it’s great to hear from you two! In fact, the India picture here was taken around the time we met.

      This is unrelated to Shawn and Jeremy’s haircuts, but some of your comical travel anecdotes have stuck with us. On a recent (long!) bus ride in Thailand, I recalled your tale of the full-bladder-meets-overnight-bus ride in India.

  5. You know how sometimes a thing will keep popping up on your radar? I have been noticing barber shops and mens’ shaving habits in different countries I just traveled to. Interesting that it’s something universal that is also so subtlely distinct.

    1. Juliann, a shave is not something Shawn has tried, but I remember seeing sidewalk shaving services in India. Somewhere along the line there was a tooth extractor on a main square (Morocco, I think), and an ear-wax remover, but I digress. :)

      Have you ever had your hair coiffed while abroad?

  6. I really love this Tricia!

    I’m more a fan of getting a shave in different countries rather than a haircut – I’ve wound up with too many appallingly bad hair cuts due to language difficulties! My miming skills are usually pretty good but not so with haircuts – one time I remember miming “please only cut this much off”, which the barber interpreted as “please, leave only this much”. Of course, getting shaved with a cut-throat razor in sometimes unhygienic looking places probably has it’s risks too.

    Will share widely.

    1. Hi Grant, I’m glad the photo essay resonated with you. :) I shared your miming anecdote with Shawn, and it brought him a good laugh!

      I’m impressed that you’re willing to go under the blade while in unfamiliar territory. An Anthony Bourdain travel episode from Cuba comes to mind, in which the poor barber is trembling nervously as he gives Anthony what looks like a close shave. Oh well, my first foreign dental appointment (and cavity) was in Serbia as Nirvana music blared in the background. Such experiences make for good stories later.

      Thanks for sharing, too!

  7. What an entertaining post of this slice of every day life! Getting a haircut in the US where we all speak English is a crapshoot in itself – but where we are trying to communicate with a few words and gestures…one thing for sure is it always grows out! I also greatly enjoyed looking back at your spectacular photos of Montenegro. Thanks!

    1. “one thing for sure is it always grows out!”

      True, and sometimes the reactions you’ll get in the meantime lead to even more cultural exchange. Recently, Shawn went to a German salon and left more of his hair on the floor than he’d expected. When my parents’ German neighbor saw his new, very short ‘do, she exclaimed “Have you lost your hair?” She usually speaks German with us, but this time she was ready to go with a playful greeting, completely auf Englisch.

      Thanks for your comment on this post, Marilyn, as well as for having a peek at my tales from Montenegro. It’s always nice to hear from you! Are you spending the winter in Mexico?

  8. This is a fun story and I’m impressed you thought to take photos each time. I’ve never had a haircut from anyone other than my usual hairdresser, let alone in another country. Obviously we need to take longer holidays! :)

    1. Carol, until we started slow traveling with no home base, I’d never gotten a trim while traveling either. Shawn’s braved foreign scissors more than me (18 vs. 8 perhaps), but I have gotten some great cuts while on the road.

      We’re in Croatia at the moment, and I’m pleased I’ll soon have the chance to return to my trusted stylist for a second appointment. Many of the locals here speak perfect English, so it should be a stress-free salon visit. :)

      Here’s hoping you’re enjoying a wonderful spring there!

  9. Shawn is pretty intrepid to allow unknown barbers to tackle his haircuts. The array of photos is so interesting as far as what the shops share in common and how each barber approaches their work.

    1. Intrepid perhaps, but I suppose he does it out of necessity. There was a moment when we contemplated getting our own clippers so I could trim his hair. We questioned if that would be good for a marriage though. :)

      It’s true that the salons have a lot of overlap in their appearances. One item that hasn’t been prominently displayed is a jar of Barbicide, though, something I remember often seeing in the United States. Perhaps it’s better not to ponder such details!

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