Thursday, August 16, 2012

Getting a Haircut in Penang

One of the easiest things to do in Penang is to get a haircut. It seems like every other business you come upon is a hair salon, or as they commonly call them here, for some reason, "saloons". When I first moved here and saw all of the "saloons" I was happy that I could get a drink without any problem. But then I realized they were salons, not bars or pubs. One of the saddest days I had was when I was going to Baskin Robbins for some ice cream. I was in the unhealthy habit of going there about once a month for some ice cream. I was on my way there for my dessert one fateful evening when I was taken by surprise. When I arrived at the store it was gone. Instead of the ice cream store there was a hair salon. Perfect! One more salon to join the existing 8 already in that small area of shops.

I don't go to the hair salons because I would rather go to one of the many barber shops, for a plain regular haircut. I don't need the fancy expensive and supposedly trendy spike jobs the young kids get. Just about all of the barbers shops are owned and operated by Indians here in Penang. It is like all of the nail shops in Boston being owned and operated by Vietnamese people.

I have been going to the same barber for a little over a year now, with no complaints, until now. The price for a haircut is 6RM (about $2USD). With this you usually get a scalp massage. As I am used to doing in the US, I give the barber a tip of 2RM or more depending on how good the haircut was. Two months ago the barber charged me 10RM, which was strange. I thought maybe he included my usual tip. Yesterday when I went for my haircut I got my usual scalp massage, this time with some disgusting peppermint oil. When it was finished I asked how much. He told me it was 10RM for the haircut and 10RM for the scalp massage. This is more than 3 times the price the locals pay. And they don't tip!

This happened with the last barber I used. I always gave him a tip on top of the regular cost. His price, without the tip, increased at every visit. For that reason I didn't go back to him and began going to my present barber. The next time I get a haircut I will point to the price list which states 6RM as the cost of a haircut and offer 6RM and no tip. I don't mind giving a good tip for a job well done, but I do mind being charged more and more at each visit. 

This type of thing happens a lot with other service providers, such a carpenters and plumbers, but I don't mind it because the prices are still reasonably cheap and as we Americans are used to giving tips for good service I really don't mind it.  I just don't like some people trying to take advantage of my generosity and habit of giving tips, by charging me extra. This action of charging expats, especially Americans and Europeans, extra is referred to as a "skin tax". Usually once you build a relationship with your service provider, you are charged a fair price, but as any other place in the world, this is not always the case.

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