Toronto
4 min

Summer French manicure drama

Salon etiquette

The date? Saturday post-Pride, a hot summer’s day. The place? A little manicure place on College St where I was seated, alongside a friend, in one of a row of massive black massage chairs with bins of swirling blue water at the foot of each seat.

You may not have been there but, if you live in Toronto, you surely know the place; a flashing neon open sign in the window, a mishmash of Asian décor items on the floor and counter, a TV set to CP24 that’s otherwise mute. Oh yeah, and walls and walls of nail polish, a dazzling array of pinks, reds, nudes, blues, purples and greens.

At the foot of each electric blue (skin softening?) swirling basin sat a woman in a white smock, hair tied back, file in hand, working away at the feet of ladies like me. Ladies who needed a pedi(cure).

When I say the salon I was soaking in on Saturday was a “salon,” it should be clear that this term does not imply any level of fanciness.

This weren’t no spa. You weren’t going to hear the gentle rhythms of the latest white noise album here and no one’s was going to offer you a glass of freshly-squeezed to enhance the stress-free vibe of this place.

It was an in and out, pick your colour, sit down, let the ladies work on you until they wave you off to go dry yourself under the purple lights establishment. Maybe, maybe, someone would carry your bag over to the drying station for you, but that’s it. If you were paying, you were meant to understand that service included: one set of very temporary flip-flops, some polish, and the services of a woman (or man – although it’s a bit rare) willing to make your toes look nice for a bargain in the $25 range, plus a manicure for an additional $10 if you have time.

While I am, at times, the kind of girl who likes a cushie robe and a lavender oil spa treatment, I’m also someone who appreciates the smell of bleach and the pragmatic approach to aesthetics that this kind of place encompasses.

To me, nail salons are like McDonalds; I can trust that no matter where I travel, I will find some place like this, some place where a curt woman will paint me pink or blue depending on my mood.

My two strangest experiences thus far with salons have been in Texas and Montreal. In Texas, the woman doing my nails became obsessed with the idea that I might let her “fix my face” as well.

I had no idea what she meant by “fix my face.”

But I did spot a crusty old vat of wax behind her and became very alarmed — so much so that I ran out of the place before my nails had completely dried.

In Montreal, the woman doing my nails had this insane looking purple thumb that I unfortunately didn’t notice until she started using it to carve the excess nail polish off the sides of my nail beds. That place even had a Jesus-friendly acoustic version of “In the Garden of Eden” playing in the background. 

I’m as nice as I possibly can be because the person in question is getting paid, I would imagine, a small amount of money to touch, rub, and clean out the guck between and beneath my finger and toenails. I would never want to clean out the gunk under someone else’s toe nails. Yuck.

It was, in fact, just as a woman at my blue basin was giving my heels a good scrub on Saturday that I heard this fretting and squawking in the chair next to me. A woman, who I had seen earlier getting a little French manicure action, was seated in her pedicure chair, in the process of getting her toes done in a French. Specifically, she was in the process of giving the woman doing her pedi a little bit of shit for the relative thickness of the line on her toenails.

“Um, excuse me!” She squawked, swatting her arm in front of the woman’s face. “Excuse me! No, no, no! I need a thick and even line. Thick and even. Eeeeven. [Huge sigh.] How long is this going to take? Hello? How long?”

I’d noticed this woman earlier, sitting and getting her nails done.  This was about the third thing I’d heard her repeat to her manicurist in a loud voice, conceivably because she felt that the woman didn’t understand her.

Fretting and fussing in her chair, she leaned over again and scrutinized the lines on her French pedicure, flipping around in her chair like a fish. “Gawd! Okay. Just. Just finish it. Finish it! Wait. What is that top coat? Is that the top coat you’re using? I hate it.” Five minutes later she was on her phone.

“Yeah. I’m at this piss manicure. Yeah. Well no I’m not happy with it. I think it looks like crap. Yeah crap. I’ve been her for 20 minutes!”

In the row of chairs, a collective of heads turned the other way. When she was finally finished, the woman, still pissing over her apparently crappy (I thought pretty good) pedicure, practically threw her bills at the counter. “Twenty five? Okay here’s 30. I want five back. Five!” Fiver in hand, she stormed off in her flimsy paper flip flops.

To the woman in question, wherever you are, I’d like to say the following:

To be clear, there is no theory I know of that suggests that repeating things in a loud and annoying voice makes them any easier to understand.

Maybe your French mani wasn’t even because you have big, crooked nails.

Maybe $25 is really fucking cheap for a French manicure and pedicure and you should shut up and be happy someone was willing to put up with your feet and your bitchy attitude instead of just dumping your tootsies back in the sink and storming off (which I would have done when I overheard that phone conversation.)

And just so you know, the whole place talked about what a bitch you were after you left. And we all tipped our manicurists handsomely because it’s a crappy job made worse by people like you.

Next time, if you’re in such a hurry, get a basic polish like the rest of us.