My manicure from Helen Nail Spa more than a month ago has lasted an impressively long time. At last, having discovered some rare free time this afternoon after my Chinese film midterm, I went to a nail salon next to the Tohee International Student Village, where manicures cost as cheap as 48 RMB, with gel starting at 78 RMB.
The shop can only fit two customers at a time—it’s that small. When I entered, two customers had been sitting around waiting for their pedicures to dry, and two employees sat huddled together on their phones. A friend of theirs sat in front of one of the two seats.
Walking in, I asked in Chinese if I could get a manicure now. Unfortunately, “nails” in Chinese is apparently annoyingly difficult to pronounce, so the employees didn’t understand, but luckily, their friend repeated it for them in Chinese in the correct tones.
I had heard from other friends in the program who had visited this place that they knew English and wanted to improve it, but I guess through a combination of our shyness and lack of desire to communicate in Chinese or even English, we largely remained silent, while their friend occasionally reread messages from boys on WeChat to the employees, complained about being hungry, or said to no one in particular how busy she felt.
At first, their friend had asked me where I was from, among other questions, but her level of vocabulary was too high for me, so it was hard to understand. She assumed she was speaking too fast, but really, I just couldn’t understand her vocabulary. So that was that.
In the middle of the manicure, the other employee had taken a phone call from whom I assume was an international client. Afterward, she asked me what “nails” meant. I translated it in Chinese, and this time they understood, though my tones probably were still a bit off. Hmm, I thought. What happened to them knowing English? If anything, they should know what “nails” meant.
In a way, I did feel regretful for not communicating more throughout the hour-long manicure, but I simply wasn’t in the mood to. It was my time to relax, after all. They weren’t going to simplify their vocabulary or start speaking in English (I overheard their friend even saying that her English is quite good but she just can’t speak it). And I wasn’t about to keep asking what certain characters meant and have them think condescendingly of me. I shouldn’t be so self-conscious, though. Next time, I told myself.