Nails salons are not typically known for conversation. Unlike their distant cousin, the hair salon, there always seems to be very little communication between client and technician. I don’t speak Vietnamese and they don’t speak English so there’s not much either of us can do. It’s fine by me because I enjoy the quiet. At my salon of choice, the quality of manicure can range but prices are cheap by comparison and they play Disney music, so whatever. Today, I was quietly watching the man painting my nails, nitpicking his file job in my head, wishing I had the guts to tell him to fix my ever so slightly crooked nail on my index finger (currently practicing reigning in my hyper-perfectionism) when a woman walked in. Everything about her was chaotic, from the way she spoke, to the clothes she wore, even to the way she applied her lipstick. (Think *4 year old holds spoon for the first time*) She waited for about two minutes before she loudly proceeded to tell my technician about how her mother had died the week prior and she was there to get a manicure for the funeral. I tried to feel for her but proclaiming your issues to the world when nobody asks tends to rub me the wrong way, however, I told myself to be kind. Be nice Lauren. Be. Nice. I seem to do that a lot.
She began to initiate conversation with another woman, asking her if the color she picked would look nice (fine) to then politely asking her to duck her head so she could reach the shelf behind the woman’s head to take her sweet time analyzing various shades of OPI polish (not fine).
I watched and judged silently. I shouldn’t have but ya know, I did. Have you always been like this?, I wondered in astonishment. A few seconds went by before the manager told her to sit down in the chair next to mine. Please, don’t talk to me, I begged silently. And she didn’t. For about ten seconds.
“Ohhh, I like your color,” she said, looking at my toes. I breathed out a helpless sigh as my eyes met hers. They had no choice. “Thank you,” I said. A few seconds passed. “Are they black or dark red?” I could feel my angst bubbling up in my gut. Oh my god, who cares? She had picked a pickle green polish so my answer wouldn’t have persuaded her to match with me. I didn’t know which was worse: engaging in small talk or kindly nodding my head at her, accepting that at a certain point, I would be forced to engage if I wanted any relief from her persistent chatter. Again she spoke. “Are you going somewhere or just getting them done for fun?”
I always have my nails done. That sounds really extra and that’s because it is, I can’t deny it. It’s become a sort of compulsion which began during my first hair salon job as an assistant. I had a boss who told me to always have my nails done because, “No one wants nasty nails in their face and right now, that’s what you have”. I remember how offended I felt but she was one hundred percent correct. Nasty nails are not cute for all parties involved in the hair cutting process. I went from strictly aiming to please my boss to a borderline OCD about all forms of nail care. It’s still going strong and I don’t predict it stopping anytime soon. But let’s continue…
“I get them done for work. I’m a hairstylist. I like to keep them nice.”
“Oh! How much do charge?” she said.
“It ranges.” No, I am not cutting your hair.
“A hundred? Because I would love for you to do my hair.”
Now, to be fair, one hundred dollars is a lot. And I know that for most people, I charge too much. But that’s not really up to me, meaning, I set my prices based off the going rate in Beverly Hills, where my much of my clientele comes from and the 90210 is not shy about high rates. So, how was I to break it to her (and the entire nail salon, for that matter) that one hundred dollars was, ya know, not gonna cut it? (Pun definitely intended.)
“No, not a hundred,” I said. She got it.
I realized she would continue to talk with me for the remainder of my appointment. Finally, I just decided to converse with her and to be honest, I knew I should have from the moment she spoke. Her mother had just died and she was obviously grieving, walking around in that dream-like state, where each step you take feels like a marathon. There’s no sense of time. Personal boundaries dissolve. Everything is upside down and you just have to find a way to secure your footing and talk to someone. Anyone.
So I caved. We began to talk about our pets, what she did for work, etc. I explained to her the difference between a gel manicure and a regular manicure which I thought was sweet. I actually really liked her. I told her I was very sorry for the loss of her mother which felt like such an inadequate thing to say but I could tell she appreciated it. I told her about how I lost my brother a couple years ago and I knew, in part, what she was going through. I had hoped it would provide some comfort. I proceeded to pay and just as I was about to walk out the door, I heard her again.
“Hey!” I turned. “Thank you for talking with me.”
“Of course,” I said as I cracked a curious half smile.
As I walked back to my house, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. A simple thank you for a simple conversation and I felt terrible for having hoped to evade her. It got me thinking about why we choose avoid each other in this way. Our conversation wasn’t long and wasn’t particularly engaging but I got the sense she felt heard and that she may have been used to being brushed off. For her to thank a stranger for something that should be commonplace seemed odd but also entirely understandable. It seems more apparent than ever that people don’t want to talk to each other and what’s worse is how they don’t listen and don’t care enough to try. (Not everyone, of course.) To intentionally listen to someone doesn’t have take long. A measly five minutes can be strangely meaningful. My brief conversation with that woman shifted my entire day in an unanticipated positive direction and I hope it did for her as well.
So, moral of the story: take some time to talk to a stranger today. Even if it makes you want to die a little inside. You never know what they are going through or what you’re going to hear. You might make someones day or perhaps, they might even make yours. And honestly, that part of you that wants to die probably needed to anyway.