Mani/Pedi, most women know these words. And, no doubt a few men. It’s not often that I indulge myself, making a visit to a nail salon for that little luxury. However , when toes are peeking out of sandals, it’s time. There are many jokes about the women who ply their trade in these salons, which seem to be predominantly family run operations.
The tiny women who speak little or no English, constantly trying to up-sell their client on more services. The chatter in Vietnamese between operators, which may or may not be about the person they are servicing. And the smiling and nodding as if they understand what you are saying. It can be a daunting task to communicate with them. They work cheap, putting in long hours of what must be hard on their backs and hands.
Off I went to a franchise – there must be one on every corner, or so it seems.The price is right and I had a coupon for this happy place. The last time I was there, a little over a month ago, a young woman who called herself, Annie came to perform the mani/pedi ritual.
There was something about her, something quiet and almost sad. I took my time thinking about how to approach her, not knowing then how much English she spoke. It didn’t take long for me to learn that she was a single mother with two young children, that she had come to America eighteen years ago from Vietnam. That she and the children were leaving in a week to visit her parents for a month. Not a trip she could take very often. Her voice was soft, and she didn’t give me the hard sell for more services. Which I appreciated, less service, bigger tip. She gave me her card, I said I would look for her when she came back.
So, there I was again with Annie, my toes deep in the blue-tinted water. A very sleepy, Annie. She had only been back in the states a week, took two days off and was still trying to adjust to the fourteen hour time difference. “No work, no money,” she said as she scrubbed, rubbed and trimmed. She had appointments books and didn’t want to disappoint her clients.
Frankly, I was quite surprised that she remembered me, she must do hundreds of people a month. People around me came and went, lots of prattle from both clients and operators. Yet, I felt like we were in some type of bubble of calm that little could slip through. Odd.
I had my Galaxy and wondered if I could capture Annie with my camera, would she even notice? Would she care, would she hear the click of the shutter? I am sure she thought I was doing what about every other woman in the salon was doing, texting, reading email, etc. She never seemed to think otherwise. The results are not perfect, and I am sure that “Annie” is not her real name. Perhaps I’ll ask her next time.
A little history –
After a score of Vietnamese refugees arrived in Sacramento in 1975, an American actress named Tippi Hedren visited these refugees and decided to help train them as manicurists. Within a few years, several other Vietnamese refugees ended up gaining successful employment in the nail industry and in 1987, the Vietnamese community had its own beauty college with training in their native language.
In the state of California, Vietnamese-Americans make up more than 80% of nail technicians, and they hold 43% of all such licenses nationally.
it’s long hours, low hourly pay, fierce competition from literally every corner of the block, and health problems from inhaling toxic chemicals such as acetone and acrylic on a daily basis.
In America, it is not a shame for Vietnamese to do nails. But in Vietnam, only the lower group on the ladder would go into any profession that involves touching other people’s hands and feet.
Ain’t it the truth?