Now that my German wife and I have moved out of the city and into the suburbs around Hannover, Germany, it is no longer practical for me to get my haircut at my favorite (although terrifying) Turkish hairdresser.
So this past summer, I walked into the closest salon I could find — some chain run by twenty-something girls wearing black t-shirts at least two sizes too small, cutting hair to the tune of the loudest, most obnoxious techno music in the world. There was a long line of dudes (only dudes, mind you), but I sat down and joined the queue anyway. I pulled my trusty messenger bag from my shoulder — the one with the giant HANNOVER printed on the front — rifled through it and found a book I’d been meaning to finish.
As I read, I noticed a terrible aroma, like stale wine or some kind of fermented fruit product one might find brewing in the toilet of a prison cell. I checked under my seat and found nothing. I looked at the muscular fellow to my right but decided, no, that shitbird bathes in Axe body spray and drinks Vodka Red Bull to rehydrate after hitting the gym.
To my left side sat a bespectacled nerd reading some celebrity gossip magazine, and he looked way to clean to be the source of such potent funk. Still, I knew some filthy bastard was stinking up the place.
A few minutes later, a fruit fly passed in front of my face. I swatted him away, but another took his place, and then another — all of them buzzing about my eyes and nose like a plague of locusts. What’s with all the flying jerks in here? I thought to myself, becoming very angry. This salon sucks! God dammit!
By this point I was next in line for a haircut, so I was mercifully led away from the swarm. I explained to the stylist — very specifically and in well-practiced German — what sort of cut I wanted. She pulled out the clippers and proceeded to peel my skull like an orange. Fast, like she wanted me out of the chair as soon as possible. It was, without a doubt, the worst haircut I have ever received in this country. The sides were uneven, the edges were sloppy, and worst of all, the stylist never once used the hairdryer to blow the tiny pieces of shaven hair from my face. That shit itches, man, and I looked like a fucking werewolf. (And not the cool kind. I mean like The Wolf Man from 1941, where they pretty much just slapped some fur and a rubber dog’s nose on some dude’s face and said, “Action!”
At the cash register, my stylist rang up the bill and loudly announced the total, then waited expectantly. (In Germany, when you want to tip for a service, the person says the amount you owe, and then you say the total amount you would like to pay — generally a little bit more.) When I did not declare anything extra, she announced my change even louder, attempting to shame me for a second time into leaving a tip. I just grinned at her, letting the shaven bits of hair stream from my lips and nostrils, and said, “That’s exactly right. Have a nice day,” and strutted my self-righteous ass right out the door.
Next, I went to our local Rossman drugstore to buy new blades for my razor. Normally you can find them with great ease because there’s an entire shelf devoted to men’s shaving products, but man, I couldn’t find these things anywhere. I walked all over the place until one of the clerks finally asked if I needed any help. I made some wild shaving gestures, clawing at my face like a pissed off monkey, and was finally pointed in the right direction. (Though I did notice the clerk kept a healthy distance between our bodies the whole time.)
I walked home from Rossman and was much relieved after I’d locked the front door and breathed the sweet, fresh air of my own home… until I smelled the stink again. And the fruit flies were back too! They’d somehow followed me all the way home! Then I realized — oh sushi Christ in soy sauce — the smell was me.
I threw my Hannover bag on the table, opened the inside pocket and discovered the biggest, blackest, most rotten banana in all of Germany. Clearly it was a biohazard and I’d single-handedly reintroduced smallpox to the general population. This evil lump of forgotten hell had been in my bag for at least a month — the hottest month of the summer — and it had been smashed into just everything: My school books, my papers, and even the little book bag inside the main bag.
I tossed the banana into the organic garbage sack and proceeded to wash absolutely everything. (Seriously, I even scrubbed the pages of my books with soap and water. To hell with readability; this was an exorcism.)
But you know what the worst part was? I’d walked all over town, sat inside a shitty salon for over an hour and wandered endlessly around a crowded drugstore, all the while believing myself to be surrounded by the absolute foulest smelling members of the European Union.
I am truly sorry, Germany. This time it was my fault.
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Want to read another one of my emotionally scarring adventures with culture shock in Germany? Check out this post: American Man Speaks with Prostitute in Hamburg, Germany.