Getting My Nails Did
My nails had seen better days. After box packing and luggage-dragging, I got to Warsaw with a strong need for a manicure.
However, the thing is, manicures in foreign countries are always a bit of an adventure. A few years ago, when I was doing my around the world trip, getting my nails felt like trying local candy – I never quite knew what I was going to get. In Argentina, for example, the full-service manicurist came to do my nails at my house. But in Spain, when I went to the salon, it turned out I had to come with my own bottle of nail polish.
Now that I was in Poland, I wondered what would be the deal here…
When I went to look for a nail salon, I was pleasantly surprised that they were easy to find. But when I asked for a manicure at the first one I spotted, the sole lady working inside just shook her head, barely lifting it from her customer’s nails.
I figured she didn’t want me to wait around and luckily across the street I found another bigger salon with four manicurists all working on their customers’ hands. But once again, my “Manicure?” question just dissipated in the salon’s awkward commander-less void until one of the manicurists again shook her blond head and said something in Polish that I took to mean “Sorry, but no”.
I walked out feeling like Juliet Roberts in Pretty Woman trying to shop on Rodeo Drive. Was I not good enough for a Polish manicure?
Soon enough, I came across yet another salon, and this time the receptionist spoke a little English.
“Manicure?” I asked her.
“Now?” she asked me in return.
“Um, yes, now.”
“Not possible,” she said, leafing through the schedule book filled with pencil scribbles. “Today all booked. Tomorrow all booked. Day after tomorrow all booked.”
So apparently, the local surprise was that in Poland walk-ins don’t exist so I better plan ahead.
Since we were leaving Warsaw the next morning for our two-week trip around Poland, all I could do was say “Dziękuję” (Thank you, which was the only word I knew) and leave with my ugly nails intact.
The next day, in Gdansk, I tried it again, hoping this city may be less snooty than Warsaw and doesn’t frown upon ladies with nail emergencies. But here too I faced the same pattern: nothing today, nothing tomorrow, nothing the day after.
By this point, my nails were approaching ogre levels, so I took radical measures, i.e. using Mr.’s giant, somewhat rusty nail clippers to chop it all off.
As you may have guessed, two weeks later, I was facing a nail emergency once again. But by then, we had come back to Warsaw and settled into our new apartment (yay!). So now that we were really living here, I was determined to find a nail salon that would take me in. I feel like a reliable beauty place – whether for nails or haircuts - is one of those signs along with a grocery store, a gym and a good coffee place that make you feel like you’re really living somewhere, like you’re kind of a local.
I wanted to be a local, so as soon as I came across a decent-looking salon, I went in and booked myself an appointment for two days later. Which in itself felt like a little victory. Though I also had a feeling that I was in for more surprises ahead.
I was right.
The first thing I learned when I came to my appointment is that in Poland, you can never-ever put your purse on the floor. Even if your purse happens to be a giant, gray, proletarian computer bag that has sat on many floors before and really doesn’t mind sitting on a pretty clean Polish nail salon floor. Doesn’t matter. Putting your purse on the floor is a huge faux pas in this country. Instead, you’re supposed to put it on your lap or squeeze it behind you on your chair or even plop it down on top of a magazine stack on the windowsill as my more experienced neighbor did – basically, anywhere but the floor. I didn’t know this, so of course I committed the cardinal sin until a nice lady took my purse and moved it, gingerly as if it was a precious puppy, onto the couch.
The second thing I learned is that Poland is much more advanced than the U.S. Why? Because unlike in American salons, in Poland your cuticles are cut not by hand but by a devious little drilling machine that comes with several attachments meant to pulverize your skin overgrowth into white dust.
Another difference I quickly noticed was the silence. You know how in American nail salons, the (usually foreign) manicurists are always chatting and giggling among themselves, making you wonder if they’re making fun of your unshaved legs? Well, in Poland, the girls who work in nail salons are mostly Polish (except when they’re Ukrainian), which basically means the poor things can’t gossip in front of their also Polish customers. And so, besides the radio and the buzz of those little cuticle drills, the salon stays quiet. Which can be kind of awkward.
Anyway, when my manicurist was done carefully pulverizing my cuticles and covering my nails with five Polish polishes (try saying that three times!), it turned out that Poland was not so advanced after all. Because despite having drill machines for your cuticles, they don’t have drying machines for your freshly polished hands. Instead, you and your giant purse are expected to sit around on the couch for 15 minutes in total silence until your nails dry and you’re free to go.
I sat there with my giant computer bag and my pretty new red nails, staring out onto the street and trying not to look at the lady drying her nails across from me. At first, I found the whole thing kind of awkward. But then, it became sort of meditative.
Instead of rushing to quickly get my nails done in between a million other tasks like I often did in the States, I was forced to plan my visit two days in advance and then spend what turned out to be an hour and a half in the quiet cocoon of a Warsaw salon, where I couldn’t call anyone or answer emails or really do anything else except sit and enjoy the pampering.
You can bet that in two weeks, I’ll be going back.