Sunday, December 07, 2008

Man Manicure & Massage

Ok, so it wasn't a manicure (though i have heard of straight guys getting manicures i am not one of them) it was a shave which to me is perhaps the male equivalent of a manicure. I think i have written about something like this before but i am too lazy to sift through my blog entries. I am working in a not-so-large town in south-central Azerbaijan so make no mistake, there are no amenities here that Azeri's would consider "extravagant" but there seems to be a convenient convergence of two cultural customs here barber shop shaves and therapeutic massages.

I have had a b*tch of a time finding places that do shaves in the US which is ironic to me for two reasons 1) I have heard stories about how back in the 50s (?) men just went to the barber shop in the morning to get a shave and 2) In this day of gyms/spas/manicures etc i would think a nice hot/close shave would be in the mix somewhere... apparently not. Its not just the US though, in places where stubble is en vogue (Italy, a place where my German friend commented, even the national news reporters can have a 5'oclock shadow and be in fashion) or where spindly beards are frowned upon (Thailand) or a place where almost all guys are very well shaved and a haircut costs a pittance (Moldova), its hard to get a shave in all those countries. The exceptions thus far are Afghanistan and now Azerbaijan.

I was a bit surprised at how many places you could get a fairly good shave in Afghanistan but it later started making sense as some ("modern leaning") Afghans think that facial hair is a bit uncouth or just a rural thing and then there are those that want to look like "good Muslims" there but also want to "look good" so a good shave/beard-trim becomes important. I went to a dirty little place near my office that had a very sharply dressed young barber there (and he used disposable razors) I am thinking (this is only "Davidson theory" i am not an anthropologist) that a combination of elements like the one that causes Moldovans to be so clean cut and that causes Afhgan's to consider getting a shave at a barber shop which converged here in Azerbaijan resulting in barbershops that give shaves, good ones too (though i fear it is dying here just as it has in the US, what a pity). The barber i go to has a small little place, i mean really small, about the size of a large walk in closet but he has a steady hand (important!), uses disposable razors (insanely important), uses the good ole brush n lather foam, and finishes up with aftershave and some baby powder type stuff... one comes out feel'n like a million bucks.

I have a friend who is a masseur, charges a kings ransom($50 *minimum*), and last time i checked she was having a hard time of it (and my guess is she is having a harder time now with the economy such as it is). Being a masseur you must charge alot especially if you have one or less clients a day but that pretty much makes it prohibitively expensive for po' folk such as myself... unless you live/work in developing countries! In many of the developing countries massages are a maximum of $20 (that was at a expat place in Cambodia), it was $10 at a Chinese place in Cambodia (which was more for locals and IMHO was at least as good as the expat massage place), in Thailand the little old lady gumby massages were like $4 (I usually tipped an extra $1) and in Moldova it was about $7. Here in Azerbaijan it is 6AZN (1AZN ~1EUR) for 40minutes... not bad at all, even on my pathetic salary.

I don't think the massage thing is a cultural convergence thing really, I have noticed that most Russian trained doctors are trained in how to give therapeutic massages and there are also trained masseurs as well. Azerbaijan is a former Soviet republic and it is not hard to see how that has influenced many aspects of society here but not totally, they are still pretty socially conservative (specially regarding interactions between men and women, i had a hell of a time finding a Russian teacher because most of the teachers [or their husbands] didn't think it would be appropriate to teach a guy...grrrrr). Well i found out in Moldova that even the village doctors gave massages and so i thought i would check out here, and yup, they got em. It was a bit awkward at first because the girl (well 20s) didn't speak English and i only speak mediocre Russian so she put me in a room and i guess told me to undress but i wasn't sure how far was acceptable (the Russian tutor finding thing now makes me nervous about offending locals) so i stripped down to pants/t-shirt and when she came in she gave me what sounded like a "I'm supposed to give you a massage like that?!" spiel, i got it and went to my boxers no problem and got a pretty good massage. There are different nuances every place i go, in Cambodia i don't remember anything in particular but in Thailand the little old ladies would freak out if you took off any more than your shoes (this was at *real* massage places, not the brothels, people don't usually take you seriously if you are a guy and say "I want a massage", they just assume you are referring to its euphemism). The Thai massages usually consisted of an unnaturally strong little old woman (trust me, not brothel material) who would do things like put her foot in your arm pit and pull your arm, pushing the limits of ones ligaments (not to mention physics) and you would come out feeling like gumby reincarnate... didn't really help so much if you had knots in your back but i image would be excellent after a exercise workout.