Nails, or Chinese Business

In one of my previous posts at Just Like NY, I wrote on the ubiquitous nail salons, which specialize in manicure and pedicure. I remember I was stunned by their number on my first visit here. Turns out that the demand for those establishments is still huge. New York City women may often wear sweatshirts, but their fingernails and toenails have to be “done” at all times. And it goes for all women here, no matter the size of their wallet or their zip code.

The business itself is definitely dominated by the Chinese. Unfortunately, since I’m usually unable to understand the Chinese speaking English, I was nervous before I made a visit to one of those places a couple of years ago – as it turned out, for a reason. I entered the salon completely unaware of how the whole process looks like. Before I was able to speak, I heard a series of questions directed at me (I failed to understand every single one), after which I said I’d like to have a pedicure done. I thought I heard a confirmation, after which… I continued to just stand there.

It turned out that there was a Chinese lady already waiting for me – as soon as I came up to her, I heard a question, but all I could understand was the syllable „ka”. She asked me repeatedly, and I still failed to understand. Soon all the ladies at the salon were looking at me. After some three minutes, with the help of other people at the salon, I figured out the lady meant what “color” I would like. I wasn’t sure where should I leave my things (it turned out I was supposed to just put them on the floor). I also didn’t understand the question concerning what kind of nail points I’d like to have – round or square (I just nodded, and then it turned out I got the square version). By the end, I didn’t even know where I was supposed to dry my nails or how long should it take.

The effect? I ruined two of my nails as soon as I left. Since then, I visited several similar places and I’m usually surprised by something on each visit (a sudden neck massage, or complete lack of free seats). This week I went to a place nearby on a late afternoon,  heading for a street that boasts 3 nail salons. (I barely found a free seat!) During this particular visit, the lady who served me kept surprising me with questions about possible extra services (“Special foot scrub?”, “Special heel-softening gel?”), including the most surprising of all: that of purchasing some bootleg DVDs.

What I find most interesting, is that having one’s nails done is treated as a regular activity here – not unlike eating, which also takes place in public and doesn’t shock anyone. Both women and man sit comfortably in their chairs right next to the windows and nobody cares if “people are looking”. Nobody treats it as an intimate service. 

The prices are usually in the $8 – $30 range (plus tip), and the salons represent varying degrees of quality. Those located in Manhattan tend to be more luxurious (although that’s not always the case), while the remaining boroughs offer more. No matter where I went, I never had a reason to complain or demand a refund.