Prior to that, every Sunday night an hour was allotted to giving myself a manicure to last the week. With the emergence of acrylic and gel nails these salons have popped up everywhere and although I have always eschewed artificial nails in favour of nature’s own, mani-pedi’s are as normal a part of maintenance for everyone now as a trip to the hairdressers.
My local salon in Mississauga is staffed by no less than a dozen young Asian women so walk-ins are convenient and easy with no waiting. Sitting at the front door manning the cash register is papa-san whom I presume is the proprietor. When a client walks in he summons a free attendant and the work begins. Now that I’m getting creaky it’s lovely to have someone attend to my feet. This includes a nice scented soak in a foot jacuzzi followed by the usual pumicing and buffing of the soles of my feet, filing of nails, tidying up cuticles, a creamy foot and leg massage and finally the layers of base coat, two applications of polish and a top coat. The job done by these professionals is far superior to what I do myself and I leave feeling quite lovely.
As I’m sitting there in the massaging chair, I’ve observed some pretty disgusting sights. During one visit I witnessed the pedicurist stripping large dead calloused slices off the soles of the feet of the woman in the next chair that reminded me of peeling a potato. Just a couple of weeks ago there was a man with ugly dark-coloured feet with callouses and formations that made me think of Jim Carrey’s pedicure that required a chain saw, belt sander and blow torch in Dumb & Dumber. I’ll give the man the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he was diabetic. Not a fun job for the attendant.
The only part of this process that makes me uncomfortable is the nature of the working conditions for the young women who perform these services. They are consistently polite but never seem happy. Walking in and requesting services leaves me feeling as if I’m entering a Bangkok brothel. Are these ladies relatives of the attendant? How are they paid? Are they paid at all or are they there to “learn English”? Not all salons are like this but there does appear to be a pattern and it worries me. While I enjoy getting a mani-pedi for between $30-40.00, how can they pay staff and overheads at such low margins. In more sophisticated salons I’ve paid as much as $55.00 for a pedicure alone (manicure extra) but these establishments always require an appointment and I honestly cannot justify the extra $40.00 for the same result.
My respect for these young women and the work they do means I’m a very generous tipper. I still can’t help wondering about their personal lives. Are they happy? Do they have plans for the future? I’ll just have to keep wondering. They’re working at earning an honest living and that is commendable. As someone fortunate enough to be born in North America, our choices and options have always been much more wide-ranging than if we’d been born elsewhere in the world. I only hope that the young lady performing my mani-pedi is being paid fairly and now has the same choices and options the rest of us enjoy.