French Manicure

It was lunch hour on Thursday. I went for a manicure–hadn’t been since the scathing story in the New York Times bringing to light the mistreatment and exploitation of manicurists. There were only two women on duty–the senior ones, one is, in fact, a senior citizen–and both Asian. I get the sense they are not being deprived or exploited or perhaps I’m simply trying to absolve myself of any wrongdoing in patronizing the salon.

It was a special occasion: this evening my friend and I would be seeing a production of Blithe Spirit at the Amateur Comedy Club. This is the theater where my mom starred as Queen Elizabeth I in Maxwell Anderson’s Elizabeth the Queen in 1974. It would be the last time she performed on stage, and the first time I saw her perform–she was magnificent. I was a bit nervous about setting foot in the theater again, a landmark founded in 1884 and still going strong. I needed nail armor to protect me.

Lunch time is a popular time at the salon, and I typically wait 15 to 20 minutes, but it’s worth it. The ladies greeted me with, “Pick a color,” and I went for OPI’s “Sapphire in the Snow,” same as last time–a deep blue, bordering on purple hue.

blue nails
photo by E. Herd

After about 10 minutes, two French women–one tall, blonde and lean; the other, shorter, brunette and more voluptuous–strode in like puffed peacocks.

The blonde said, “Is someone available for manicure and pedicure?”

The older Asian manicurist said, “Pick a color.”

The women, speaking vivaciously in French, perused the shelves of bottled colors, then burst out laughing.

They seated themselves on the pedicure La-Z-Boy-type chairs like throned queens.

“Can you fill the water?” the blonde said to no one in particular.

The manicurists muttered in their language, and the younger one filled their water troughs. Both were occupied doing manicures for other clients.

Note: For those not familiar with the World of the Nail Salon, it is unusual–at least in my experience–to seat oneself in the pedicure chair and ask the nail specialists to fill up the water so you can soak while they are servicing other clients.

The water started to fill up the troughs.

The blonde shrieked, “Oh, too hot!”

The elderly manicurist added some cool water while muttering to her co-worker (never in English).

The blonde fiddled with the remote which adjusts the seat, and can even give you a back massage too (I don’t care for it myself), and the two women began flipping through the available magazines.

The brunette pointed at something in People magazine, and they started speaking in French and laughing raucously.

The manicurists continued their private conversation in hushed tones, snickering intermittently.

When I was finally seated for a manicure, the blonde woman and I made brief eye contact.

As we looked at each other, I thought, “It’s people like you who give the French a bad reputation.”

Anyway, I was happy with my manicure and I don’t think I exploited anyone that day.

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