I often forget—like many obnoxious Americans—that people who don’t speak English well are not also deaf.
This weekend I went with a group of girls for manicures and pedicures at one of our favorite local nail salons. It’s owned by a Vietnamese family who speaks loudly to each other in their native tongue while scraping, buffing and polishing their customers’ digits. The shop is open nearly all the time, and the family works very hard at maintaining their business.
I decided not to get a full pedicure (I had just spray tanned) and instead opted for a toe nail polish change and a manicure. I picked out a fun purple for my toes, and a lighter, coordinating shade for my fingers.
My nail technician seemed like she might be in a grumpy mood, but I didn’t pay much attention. It WAS a Friday night, she was still working, and she confessed to me that she hadn’t eaten lunch that day. I’d be grumpy, too.
But then, she started giving me a hard time about my color choice for my nails. “You want THAT color? No, this color look better.” (Note: I’m not poking fun at her accent or way of speaking, just typing what I heard.)
I chuckled at her forthrightness and said, “Oh, I prefer this color.”
She wasn’t trying to be funny. “No, it won’t look good.”
Um, OK. “I really think I’ll stick with it,” I insisted.
Bad idea number one: crossing the hungry girl with the sharp instruments. “Your cuticle too thick,” she said. Then, “This color look better,” indicating once again my toe polish color.
At this point, I was getting a little peeved. I WANTED the damn color I’d picked out, leave me alone hungry girl! Sheesh!
She stepped out of the room for a moment as I stepped over to the manicuring station. One of my friends piped up, “Hey! What color are you getting on your nails?”
I said, “Well, I picked this one out, but I’m getting bullied into another one.”
Bad idea number two: Forgetting that not-so-nice translates over any language barrier.
My nail technician came back to the table and basically threw my hands into the bowl of water. She began to roughly jam my cuticles back, rushing through my manicure like she couldn’t wait to get me out of her chair. I shot a look at my friend, who didn’t seem to get what was happening.
I turned back to my lady, who looked up at my face, zeroing in my eyebrows. “You want eyebrow wax?” she said, staring at my forehead critically.
“Um, sure,” I said, knowing from my last glance in a mirror that I did indeed need an eyebrow wax.
And then it happened.
She stopped in the middle of the manicure and gazed at me coldly with what could only be described as attitude.
“You want your lip wax?”
Her tone was unmistakable. It was the same mean-girl, get-even tone I’d heard plenty of times in high school. The loud, challenging call of the alpha female. The, “I can sooo be meaner than you, if you’ll only give me a chance, bitch.”
“Um, no,” I said quietly. And then, in my own weak defense, “I don’t need one.”
She silently raised an eyebrow and went back to work, while I turned to my friend with a horrified half-laugh.
“What?” she asked.
I just shook my head, bemused at the entire situation. For some odd reason, I still went through with the eyebrow wax (the overly hot wax, her silence, and my capitulation to the situation seemed to draw a truce between us), and I left with a red forehead and the color on my nails I requested.
I don’t necessarily know what the lesson in this story is. Maybe it’s that I should be more understanding of tired, hungry service providers. Maybe it’s that I shouldn’t be such a jerk and assume that someone who speaks basic English won’t understand loud not-so-nice native English. Maybe it’s that personality conflicts can cross any language barrier, and maybe it’s just that I picked a REALLY ugly color for my nails.
Ha! “You want your lip wax?” Wow.