In Germany, I am comparatively ridiculously concerned with offending people. If I’m buying the last bottle of milk, I’ll offer to share it with the person in line behind me (they’re like, “Inefficient. Also odd. I have no receptacle for one half liter of your milk. No.”) I’m more comfortable in a society where everyone is the same level of polite; the German approach feels rude to me and I’m not used to being the tender violet. It’s hard to balance assimilation and cultural competence with a sense of self; hard to differentiate between what is really important to me and what is just habit. There are times, though, when even I see that my definition of politeness is just too damn much:
At the cash machine, I don’t like the feeling of covering the number pad when entering my pin code. The machine’s signage tells us to, and I guess we do it in case we’re being recorded, but I always feel like apologizing to the people around me, “You’re probably totally trustworthy, I don’t mean to imply otherwise, but if I don’t do this every time I’ll just feel like a paranoid, profiling asshole the times I DO cover the numbers. Sorry. It’s better this way.”
I’m a full-grown woman and yet I am not convinced that telling the wine merchant that I like a mature, not-too-dry red is more likely to get me a wine I will like than saying “Red? Unless there’s a white one that you especially like?” And when the wine lady asks what I want to pay, my answer is basically, “The integer at the nexus of inoffensive and indulgent.” So I end up with some obscure, way-too-dry white that is a great bargain for people who prefer their wine to be interesting rather than delicious. Ugh.
Unfortunately it’s the same with haircuts. Last Saturday I secured a last-minute appointment, sat down in the salon chair ready to chop off 6 inches or so, and, head filled with visions of a sleek, face-flattering, easy-to-care-for statement on my fabulous life, said, “Um, just do what you think. But short.” She’s the professional, right? Let’s not offend her by playing armchair quarterback. An hour later I realize the haircut lady decided that I, as a middle aged woman trying to pass in a crowd in Germany, would be best served by a hairstyle unavoidably reminiscent of Hitler Youth: white walls, deep side part, straight comb-over.
Fuck, you know what though? I’m 41.
It’s not Hitler Youth.
God damn it.
Shoot for polite, end up with the Hitler Haircut. I’m doing this wrong.