The Manicurist’s Tale

 Change your perspective, change your life

 Hello Friend,

Every now and then I treat myself to a manicure and pedicure. A most relaxing experience, especially the pedicure. Having a professional manicure also reduces stress because, unlike when I do my nails myself, there are no uneven spots, or polish spilling over the sides of my nails, or, best of all, no cuts when I try to trim my cuticles.

I have noticed that most of the nail salons in my area are staffed by nail technicians from Vietnam. I have gleaned this information by making small talk during my pampering sessions. It feels rather odd to sit in complete silence when you are inches away from a person who is looking in your direction. I say glean because I don’t usually gather much information because of the language barrier, and I feel like I am being rude if I ask the person to repeat what they said several times.

But then, on one visit, I was lucky to have Lily (not her real name) tend to my hands and feet.

Like all the technicians, Lily wore a smile and spoke softly. She seemed to be much older than the other male and female manicurists who were in their thirties or younger. As she started my pedicure, she asked me about myself and my children and my work. She had a good grasp of English, and I was pleasantly surprised by that. Emboldened by her interaction with me I tentatively began asking her questions that were long on my mind.

One was my curiosity about why so many nail salons were owned and operated by Vietnamese immigrants. Lily explained that it was because very little knowledge of English was needed in that industry, from training to employment. If one or two people in the salon were reasonably proficient that was enough. The other workers could get by with signs and motions and very few words, as I have found out. Just a touch of a finger or a gentle tap would let me know exactly what I needed to do, whether it was to relax my finger, place my hand in the soaking bowl or move it to the fan.

I asked Lily about her family in turn. As she explained, Lily and her family, like many of the other Vietnamese in the area, were able to settle in America because their fathers worked for our armed forces during the Vietnam war.

I compliment her on her grasp of the English language, and she said she studied English in Vietnam where she taught high school chemistry before coming over to America. I wondered how Lily felt about leaving such a position of authority to do what she now did. The question begged to burst out of my mouth, but I could embarrass both of us if I dared ask it.

Lily spoke as if she knew what was on my mind.

“At first I cry. I not like working like this. I think about teaching, but I cannot be teacher here. Language hard. So, I do nails.”

Lily communicated the unhappiness she felt at moving from teaching students the secrets of science, to taking care of the hands and feet of strangers. It was obvious that that unhappiness no longer dominated her mood given her constant smile and cheerful rapport. Lily told me her secret.

“I always work hard and do good job even though I am not happy, but then I see I make other people happy. They like how their hands and feet look. They smile and say thank you. Then they start to ask to see me next time they come because they like my work.”

“It not like teaching chemistry, but I do something good for people to make them happy. Now I like nails better and I now more happy.”

I left the salon a satisfied customer. Not only did I receive a great manicure and pedicure, but I was reminded of how sometimes all it takes to improve one’s outlook on life is to make oneself see things from a different perspective.

In her worse moments Lily might have seen herself scraping dead skin from people’s feet, but in her more enlightened state she can see what she truly does – make people happy.