America’s cities and suburbs are dotted with Vietnamese nail factories to which women flock regularly and in great numbers for a mani-pedi. Comedienne Anjelah Johnson’s routine on the Asian owned salon is exactly on the mark for capturing the experience of what is essentially fast-food for the nails. You can see her interpretation here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsWrY77o77o . Every word she says is true.
My sister and I went this weekend to a salon located in a strip mall with an all glass store front, just as most of these places are. There’s usually a Patrick Nagel-inspired graphic of a woman’s face with a long-nailed hand placed theatrically across it. This one, however, had black window tinting obscuring any view within. I stood under the neon open sign and said, “If this place is a bar, I’m leaving,” but I opened the door to a bright, clean, busy interior. A half-dozen or so ladies were being tended by a slightly smaller number of Vietnamese bent over their hands or feet. The drone of footbaths, the sharp scent of acrylic, and the faux marbled fixtures invited us inside. Every salon interior is just like this one.
“What you need today?” sung out the manager. I could not help but think of Anjelah Johnson’s routine and wondered if I’d be asked about my marital status, which is usually the first question I get once seated in places like this, but the woman who took care of me was fairly quiet that day. Her English was extremely limited, so we did what most do in this situation--smile and nod at each other a lot. At one point, she turned the spa chair on. Truthfully, I don’t like the chairs that much. Those things get going with all the kneading, massaging, and buzzing action and I practically get thrown out of my seat. Once in one of those chairs, the upper back zone kicked in just in time for a male customer to sit down right next to me and my incredibly vibrating breasts. I was mortified. This time, I asked the woman to turn the chair off.
“Okay,” she smiled and nodded. Then she reset the chair to turbo and gave me the remote.
“No, please, off. I’d like the chair off.”
“Okaaay.” More smiles, more nods. The chair stayed on. I examined the remote closely. There was no off button.
Minutes later, when a man appeared to file my fingernails, I asked again. More smiles, more nods. The chair was reduced to a more subtle prodding motion and stayed on. I gave up.
Within the hour, I was polished and groomed, and stood before leaving to admire the spectacular sight of fresh pink, moisturized skin on my hands and feet. In all the professional shops I’ve been, no one does a longer lasting polish than these places, nor as quickly or cheaply. It’s what keeps us Americans coming back. The manager scurried up to me, uttered a few flowing lines of Vietnamenglishese, smiled, and held the door for us. We smiled back.
“What’d she say?” asked my sister.
Anjelah Johnson came to mind again. I can see her talking about the customer service and how nice the ladies are. “Whatevah you like, we do for youuu,” she croons. No promises of good English though.