"Here's the secret," I say. "You get your hair cut by a Japanese woman. They're afraid of doing something wrong so they'll barely touch your hair. They will slowly, cautiously snip away for an hour or two. Eventually their instructor will come over and say, 'That's really nice,' and because he has cocaine and a boyfriend at home he will finish the cut. That way you get an professional haircut for just a five-dollar tip."
He shoots me a look that says he's impressed, and it flashes through my brain when the woman hacks at my hair. She clearly has no idea what she's doing and she has absolutely no reluctance to impose it on every side of my head. The instructor comes over and scolds her in Japanese. He shows her how to hold the scissors and how to hold her hands, but when he leaves she proves powerless to imitate his motions so she returns to her random hacks. Five minutes later he returns and the scene repeats.
They say the earth is 98% water. I leave the salon with bald scalp making up the same percentage of my head. My German boyfriend rings me on FaceTime before I get to the subway. "Wow," he says. "It is short. It is really, really short."
Me, I'm fine with denial. "It's good. It's not too short. It looks really good."
"It is short. It is very short. I do not expect it will be that short."
"Fine," I snap. "It's a little short. Maybe it's a little short."
He notices my irritation. "I usually will not comment on how short it is, but I do not expect it. You tell me Japanese women are afraid to cut hair."
"I found one who isn't," I bark. "She wasn't afraid at all. She had a style in mind that she thought was right for me and she went for it. I think it looks really good."
"It is short," he repeats.
"It's a little short but not too short. I'll look great in three weeks when I come see you in Berlin."
He shakes his head. "I wish so," he says. "But human hair does not grow so fast."
I think about throwing my iPhone but remember that even giving it a sharp nudge means a two-hundred dollar repair bill. In Europe everybody knows how to spot an Ugly American: they're overweight, they wear multicolored coats, and every sentence that comes out of their mouths compares their new surroundings unfavorably to that Utopian homeland. "In America there's an elevator in every hotel!" "In America restaurants have catsup for your french fries!" "In America Mr. Whiskas poos wherever he wants!"
That sad cliché flies through my head but I swat it away and stomp on it. "In America when somebody gets their hair cut you tell them how nice it looks. You don't say, 'It's short! It's really short! HOLY GOD, IT'S SO GODDAMN FUCKING SHORT!' No, you say, 'Wow, that looks good! You are so handsome!' and that's the end of that."
My German Boyfriend is shocked. We've only dated for a couple of months so I'm still on my best behavior, and this is my first outburst. "Okay," he says, visibly recoiling. "It is not too short. It is a very good length."
"Thanks," I say as my anger recedes. He tried, and though it seemed a little forced I think we dodged a bullet. I realized we would have culture and language problems but hoped that with patience and heart-to-heart talks we'd get through them and our relationship would continue to grow. "I'll shampoo it tomorrow and fluff it up and it'll look really great."
He inspects it again, then says somberly, "I think you will not need shampoo."