Not every hair cut is the same, and that principle certainly applies to Abu Dhabi’s salons, or, as they call them, ‘saloons’. As well as providing us with incredible food and diverse attractions, Abu Dhabi’s cosmopolitan nature has also spawned an eclectic array of barbershops that come with their own vibe, and have unique traditions when it comes to snipping away those locks.
This is exemplified by the saloons run by my South Asian brothers. Now, I can understand why visiting these premises may be a little intimidating to anyone new to the capital. The barbershops here are small, a little slapdash when it comes to decor and often feature garish fluorescent lighting. The people working there are not often fond of too much small talk and wield the clippers with a stoicism that some may find impersonal.
But there is a wonderful authenticity to these places that keeps me coming back. For one thing, the price disparity compared to other barbershops is insane. For example, the Indian Saloon, located behind World Trade Centre Abu Dhabi, offer haircuts for Dh10, while Khalidiya's Al Maleeh Star Gents Saloon – another of my regular spots – can give you an efficient trim for Dh30.
Now compare those prices to my neighbourhood barber on Reem Island, whose minimum price is Dh90. And that doesn't include the free refills of sweet cardamom tea that the Indian Saloon or Abu Shanab Salon (behind Al Murjan Tower in Al Saadah district) offer customers.
But even though their prices are cheaper, you need to learn a few things to make your experience a smooth one: the first lesson being that these places are not designed to fulfil any extravagant demands. Their services are literally cut and dry; you need to go elsewhere if you want your hair braided or dyed, for example.
Trimming or shaving your head is the best you can hope for here. Secondly, with many of the clientele speaking Arabic, it is wise to learn a few words to receive the best possible service. Here is a glossary of terms to make your snip snappy:
This is the quickest and most direct way to explain that you want the shortest shave with the clippers.
You will come across this term once the barber has trimmed your beard. They will ask "Tarteeb?" meaning "Order?". This is simply the barber asking if you want your beard to be defined or kept in its natural shape instead.
This will be presented in the form of a question. But be wary of this query. The literal translation is "rope", and refers to the painful practice of threading, in which cotton or polyester string is rolled over your face to pluck out stubborn follicles. This is not for the faint-hearted.
Another term to look out for if you want to keep it cheap. It means "to clean" and is normally an additional service at the end of your haircut – it could cost about Dh15 – in which your face is scrubbed with six different kinds of fruit-scented creams before being wiped with a hot towel. You will walk away with your skin supple, but you will smell like an apricot for a good hour afterwards.
Pronounced "na-ee-man", this means "smooth" and is a declaration that your salon experience is over. This is normally said once your cut is done and you have had the mandatory shoulder massage. Your barber will triumphantly state "naeeman" with a hearty slap on the shoulder. This will probably be the only time you will see the barber smiling – it is the look of a man satisfied with his work.