The wisdom of barbers


The trade of barbering is one of the world's oldest professions. The history of the trade varies depending on which culture is telling it, but barbers featured in ancient Greece and Rome, when their shops served as social centres and hubs for gossip.

In Europe, barbers for many centuries doubled as surgeons, blood-letting, abscess-lancing and wound-dressing as required. The trades eventually separated, but even today London's Worshipful Company of Barbers operates out of Barber-Surgeon Hall.

Barbers can range from the elite to the simple, and to their loyal customers they remain valued sources of gossip, information and even wisdom. Journalists love gossip too, so reporters from six of the BBC's language services went looking for ordinary barbers with exceptional stories.

Do you have a favourite story about a barber you've met anywhere in the world? Have you had a close shave in an unlikely location? Share them with us using #barberwisdom on social media, or use the form below.

India: Circle of life

On the riverbank

Abdul Hameed is an example of India's multi-lingual, multi-religious make-up. He hails from the north, speaks Hindustani (a mix of Urdu and Hindi), is a practising Muslim and happens to be an essential part of the most important Hindu rituals. Indian Hindus believe in shaving the birth hair of a baby, and this is always done by the local barbers - who have traditionally been Muslims.

Abdul Hameed is the third generation of his family to work as a barber. He had hoped to educate his children, but instead he now hopes his grandchildren will get the knowledge they need to find a more lucrative profession.

Producers: Parul Agrawal and Shalu Yadav

Dakar, Senegal: The footballer's barber

Inside the shop

Tita de Barros is a fun character - an outgoing, generous guy who welcomes regulars to his barber shop as if he was entertaining old friends. He says being a barber relies on trust and friendship, because "you have to trust someone to let him hold a razor blade to your throat".

Some barbers get asked to cut hair in the style of the world's best footballers. Tita de Barros had another plan - he would ask some of the best footballers in the world if he could cut their hair.

Armed only with a pair of clippers and his irrepressible enthusiasm for Senegal's national team, Tita became the nation's travelling barber and a local celebrity before giving it all up and returning to his shop.

Producers: Laeila Adjovi, Loic Hoquet

Buenos Aires, Argentina:

How many barbers are there?

Calculating an accurate number of global barbers is tricky. Apparently it's a classic management school question. Take the number of men in the world and multiply by the number of haircuts they need per year. Then divide by the number of haircuts a barber could reasonably do in a year. Finally (the tricky bit) adjust for bald men, under-twos, Sikhs and those who cut their own hair.

The BBC's guess? Seven million, for what it's worth (which probably isn't very much).

Miguel Angel Barnes is known as the "Earl of Caballito", the Buenos Aires neighbourhood where his shop is based.

Part barber shop, part coffee bar, part museum and cultural centre, Miguel's salon takes his customers back in time several decades.

Producer: Macarena Gagliardi. Camera: Emiliano Fabris

Hanoi, Vietnam: Underneath the banyan tree

On the street

There are more street barbers in Hanoi than in the country's other cities. Most are middle-aged and work alone. Sometimes they sit in a pair around street corners. They aren't officially licensed but don't really bother local authorities and police. Dzung was friendly and confident being filmed for the first time. Unfortunately I had my hair cut before I left London, but I would definitely try him next time I am in Hanoi.

Vietnamese barbers have particular traditions unfamiliar in the West, including shaving the fine hairs on the forehead and ears. Dzung, a veteran street barber in Hanoi, Vietnam, offers haircuts under the shelter of a giant banyan tree.

Producer: Hoang Nguyen. Camera: Le Thanh Tung

Lahore, Pakistan: A touch of style

Inside the salon

"Babloo" is one of the favourite saloons of fashion divas and "Lollywood" stars. I stayed there for a couple of hours and during this time I met some famous models and actors. Some of them came to get their hair done, but some visited just to take Babloo's advice for styling and photo shoots.

Pakistan may not be the first place that comes to mind when we think of high fashion. But Lahore has a thriving fashion scene, one in which Babloo's well-known salon plays a key role.

Producer: Shumaila Jaffrey

Cairo, Egypt: The barber-surgeon


In the small village in the Nile Delta, people describe Moftah as their "Doctor-Barber". Moftah himself remains quiet, playful and comfortable with the camera. His joyful vibe is a blend of satisfaction at the progress in his village and nostalgia for bygone days.

Moftah has been cutting hair for most of his life. Now almost 80, he remembers a time when barbers virtually acted as doctors, taking on the responsibility for small-scale operations that would make many modern stylists wince.

Producers: Ranyah Sabry, Cherif Albert

Series producer: Adam Blenford

Do you have a favourite story about a barber you've met anywhere in the world? Have you had a close shave in an unlikely location? Share them with us using #barberwisdom on social media, or send an email to adding 'barberwisdom' in the subject line.

Or use the form below.

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