View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Going to the Salon or Saloon in the U.A.E?

This photo was taken of one of the main streets in Dubai’s suburb, Al Karama, the location for scores of shops that sell cheap clothes, bags and jewelry with fake brands. It is a picture of two shops where one may go to get a haircut or a beauty treatment. One is called a salon. The other, two shops along, is a saloon [click the photo for magnification].

A cursory glance around Dubai reveals that both of these terms are used for places where you can get your hair, face or nails beautified but the word saloon is more common.

In Fujairah, most beauty and hair places are known as saloons and one has to look hard to find a salon.

But isn’t a saloon a large hall in a town or a ship where you go for an alcoholic drink? Isn’t a saloon an up-market word for a pub, a bar, a tavern or a watering hole?

And isn’t a business for hair and beauty treatments a salon, a hair salon or a beauty salon?

The difference is only the one letter ‘o’ which suggests that the words come from the same source. The Online Etymology Dictionary confirms this and indicates that these words came from the French salon, meaning a large room or the Italian salone, meaning a large hall. Before the eighteenth century salon and saloon were used interchangeably to describe a large hall in a public place. Saloon initially became the anglicized form of the word salon.

From around 1841 the word saloon came into currency, particularly in American English, as the name for a public bar.

The use of the word salon to describe an establishment for hair and beauty care came into vogue from 1913.

People in the U.A.E. entering a saloon on a hot day looking for a drink may be disappointed to find that they emerge only with their hair cut. On the other hand, they might meet people, share some stories and experience the conviviality that is inherent in the original concept of a saloon.

Geoff Pound

Image: Salon and saloon in Al Karama, Dubai.