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I think I’ve figured it out. Why hair stylists and nail techs in fancy salons chat you up and act like they’re your friends. For the stylist and nail tech, I’ve always thought it was about the tip. So they have the same motivation as my waiter or waitress for being friendly and chatty. But why do those of us paying put up with the chatting, even when it slows down the service for which we are paying? We are, after all, living in terribly busy times.

This epiphany tried to hit me weeks ago, but only cracked my thick skull today. Go into any nail salon run by people of Asian descent. You know where to find them. In a strip mall with a name that evokes warmer climates and red carpets. You don’t need an appointment. Win #1. There is no chatting. There is filing and polishing and massaging and drying. Ladies (I’ve only seen ladies) are pumped through there like tennis balls in one of those machines that shoot them over the net. Pop, twenty bucks and a tip, pop, twenty bucks and a tip–like that. They’re efficient, win #2, which should be great in today’s hectic-paced world. But I am not completely comfortable in this setting and definitely not as comfortable as in the salon where people pretend to like me and make me wait twenty minutes for an appointment and then make me wait some more while they stop to tell a story they can’t tell while operating heavy equipment like scissors or a nail brush. Why is that? Am I racist? No. Do I dislike people who speak with accents? Hello, I’d like to cite my obsession with the Brits, such as Colin Firth and the fictional Bridget Jones.

I won’t pretend that the racial component is insignificant, but would add that it’s in partnership with its friend, class. For anyone with a social conscience, and I’m guessing this is particularly true for people from working-class backgrounds, having anyone scrub and rub your feet is uncomfortable. Paying someone to do so is even more so. I don’t feel bad paying the cashier at McDonald’s, but I feel part of some oppressive class system when I pay someone to paint my toes. Which is why salons create this fiction of friendship. I’m your friend. You’re going to pay me, but that’s not what this is really about. This is really about a chance to catch up, have some coffee, and incidentally paint your finger- or toenails.

From a business card--can you even see the work happening here?

Chatting with those who provide these personal services makes us feel less exploitative, as does paying the high dollar.

Maybe some sociologist has done a study that will put my conscience at ease….

And if only the man using a microplane on my heel had a British accent……..

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