Have you ever seen that episode of Seinfeld, the one where Elaine goes to get her nails done, and she’s convinced the employees there are talking about her in their native tongue? I always think of it when I get my own nails done – though at this point, I’ve been going to the same salon for 7 years or so, I don’t really think much of it. I did go recently, and there was a new woman working there, and she was grinning and talking away, and I imagined she was saying something to the effect of, “Whoa, girl, you got yourself a big girl there!”
But, I am always curious about what they’re saying, and this time was no different – I listened to the subdued conversation/back-and-forth among the staff and realized that so many of the words are short, staccato bursts that have strikingly similar sounds, but the emphasis and cadence are what seem to vary the words as well. Nearly all the words seemed to start with the letter “D”, but it could have been my own American filter trying to make sense of a language I’ve never even studied. There came a point, though, when knowing the actual words took a back seat, quite rapidly, to the overall communication.
It started with one of the nail techs standing up from her pedicure station, and speaking loudly and clearly, quite strongly, at someone else (we couldn’t tell quite yet, but it became clear within a minute.) She was PISSED OFF. Immediately, several of the other women began softly speaking, obviously trying to diffuse whatever this situation was. (I could actually tell two women said the same thing within 30 seconds of each other, presumably “calm down!”) The music had stopped and the silence became palpable. And then? The tech completely lost her shit. She was moving her customer over to her nail station, and apparently, she was really pissed at the guy who sat behind her, and she was shouting at him at the top of her lungs, while he quietly tried to interject what appeared to be his defense. Another worker got up, went in the back, and put the music on – full blast. So now we have Mariah Carey warbling her head off, and Angry Tech is now shrieking at the guy, and she’s holding up the light boxes for curing the shellac nails, and basically having an explosive episode in this dude’s direction. With another bewildered customer in-between them.
Allllllll the customers start looking at each other. Because THE HELL, we can’t understand a goddamn word, but as I muttered to the lady on my left, we didn’t really need to know what she was saying because every single one of us knew she was LIT UP and pissed off. Someone down to my right said, “I think it involves that box.” We’re trying not to laugh, because it would not only be rude, but none of us really wanted the focus of her anger to find a new home! Angry Tech marches back and turns off the music. Returns, continues to fume. The customer of Angry Tech is looking at all of us in the pedi-chairs with wide eyes and a face of confusion while she’s stomped off – so of course I have to say, “What the hell did you do?” which makes us all chuckle a little, but not too much, because AT is back, holding up the light box (which is plugged in and glowing), she is yelling, and frankly, I didn’t want to have a toaster-in-the-bathtub incident.
My tech, who is at the top of the hierarchy (there is always a hierarchy at these salons), goes back and turns the music back on, but at a lower volume. Right as she returns, AT picks up the light box again and continues to scream at the dude, who is working away on another woman’s nails, and murmuring every so often. At this point, my lady goes over and turns AT around (because she was like a Jack-in-the-box at this point, up/down, up/down, SCREAM SCREAM BRANDISH), and physically thwaps her on the shoulders and basically tells her to sit the hell down and calm down in the process. (All in Vietnamese, mind you.) I whispered when I was paying, “What’s the deal?” She whispered back that apparently the male tech had taken AT’s light boxes for his client. I asked if they had to buy their own boxes. Nope, they always share. Nope, the ones he took weren’t any different than the ones he had.
We concluded something else was probably going on in her life. I walked out, marveling at how I had specifically been thinking about the language when I got there, and how I never really know what they’re saying – but in this case, there really was no translator needed. I’m sure there are statistics on communication and all the pieces that go into it – words are just one component. Brandishing a light box? That speaks volumes as well.