My Nail Salon Addiction

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Footprint, Costa Rica, February 2014

Footprint, Costa Rica, February 2014

I discovered nail polish in 1995. My friends and I collected “dix francs” bottles of scented and glittery polish and painted each nail a different colour to look cool and trendy. I tried every single trick in the book to make my nails dry faster (patience isn’t a virtue teens embrace) and spent even more hours to fix the unavoidable smudges.

This was before and Internet era and Facebook—teens didn’t have anything else better to do after school.

Then I discovered ear and body piercing and spent the rest of my teens rebelling with needles, promptly forgetting to paint my nails—can’t be a grunge chick with glittery nails, right?

The first year I worked as a French teacher in Ottawa, as soon as spring sprung, my students—all federal government employees—started to sport painted toenails. They would compare the relative merits of Shellac over OPI. When I admitted I didn’t really have an opinion on the topic, they asked incredulously: “You’ve never had a pedicure?!”

Nope. I had never had a pedicure. Was I missing something?

Apparently I was. I went online and peruse descriptions of “deluxe spa pedicures” where my feet would be “gently exfoliated”, my nails “trimmed and buffed” and a “lovely coat of polish applied.”

They had me at “relaxing leg and feet massage.”

I saved up—my executive “students” and I weren’t exactly in the same tax bracket—and book a pedicure at a nearby spa.

Me, going to a spa. I was looking forward to experiencing “relaxing bliss” in a “luxurious atmosphere”.

Unfortunately, my expectations were too high.

Maybe the spa employee sensed that the pedicure was a one-time splurge for me and that I wouldn’t turn into a repeat customer. Maybe she thought I looked too poor to tip. Who knows.

She greeted me and rushed me to a private treatment room, told me to lay on what looked like an operating table and she started working on my feet. It was awkwardly intimate. Was I supposed to make conservation?

“You know, if you’d lost like, twenty pounds or so, you’d look better,” she commented five minutes into the pedicure.

I was too unexperienced, too shy and too stupid to say anything witty or call her out on her rude comment but it hurt. And I was stuck in this room with her. Fortunately, she switched topic and talked about herself for the rest of the pedicure. Thirty minutes later, she claimed she was done.

I took a look at my feet. They looked okay. I wasn’t. So much for a relaxing experience.

I paid, left the spa and didn’t bother touching up my polish when it started to chip a week later.

I stayed away from pedicures and spas for many years until I saw a bunch of small nail salons popping up around Ottawa. One summer, I decided to overcome my pedicure phobia and, enticed by the “$30 pedicure special”, I pushed the doors of a salon on Bank Street.

There was a row of pedicure chairs, half of them occupied, and a dozen Asian women working on clients. I said the magic word—“pedicure” and was told to “pick colour” and to “sit on chair”.

Without a word, the technician brought me a stack of magazines and pressed the “on” button on the chair—yay, a massage! She started to work on my feet while chatting with her coworkers in Vietnamese.

I loved it. I didn’t have to say anything or do anything but respond to short commands—“foot in water”, “water hot?” and “polish okay?”

An hour later, I actually felt relaxed and my feet looked great.

I became a regular customer.

“Best Nails”, “Nice One Nails”, “Divine Nails”, “Trendy Nails”… the names don’t make always make much sense (“Nice One Nails”? I understand “Nice One” and “Nice Nails” but a combination?) but the service is great and the price is right. For $30 I get beautiful feel and an hour of pampering. Can’t beat that.

Every six weeks or so, I head to the nail salon. It’s a friendly yet impersonal place. They talk walk-ins and I almost never get the same beauty technician but they are all great.

I enjoy picking funky polish colours—“Britney Pink”, bold red, delicate purple… For a long time, my excuse was that my painted nails amused Mark. He doesn’t care so much about my toes anymore (he discovered my belly button piercing, which is way more fun apparently).

Now my excuse is “me time” and pampering. In the winter, no one really sees my feet but I don’t care. I feel better when I have pretty feet.

Do you go to nail salons? Ever had a pedicure?


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


    • I like the Nice One Nail bars. There are two close to my place, one by the Food Basics and one by the Walmart (same staff). The one on Bank Street is pretty good too (close to Somerset I believe).

  1. Why do some strangers think it’s acceptable to make unsolicited negative comments on someone’s appearance or anything else?

    I paint my own nails, but I’d go to a salon if a friend ever suggested it to me!

  2. I’ve never gone to any of these nail places, but I would love to go. I’m not really into polish, but I never say no to a good massage. Do you think it’s possible to only go for half an hour and just get a foot massage?

    • I wish! Like you, massage is what got me hooked. But I have never seen people getting just the massage (although it is common in Asia).

  3. I have a thing about my feet. No one can touch them. Not even me, unless I have to. So I have never had a pedicure. I have had a couple of manicures, but I found that I can do the job as well at home. The thing I always enjoyed was getting my eyelashes done. I would do that again now if I had the money. I can’t believe the hurtful comment that one lady made – I cant imagine ever saying something like that!

    • Oh, that’s funny! Are you ticklish? Is that why? I can’t stand people touching my ears, I don’t know why. Especially bending the lobe… I hate it!

      I have never had my eyelashes done… what was enjoyable, i.e. the result or the process?

  4. Those Vietnamese pedicure places are one of the few things I miss from the US. The integrated massage chair + heated foot tub have not yet arrived in France, so the few times I’ve gotten a pedicure in France the esthetician heats up water at the beginning and puts it in a small tub. The water actually cools down quickly, which I didn’t realize with the heated chair + tub thing. Then the other big problem I have with French pedicures is that it’s not about gently clipping nails/pushing cuticles between a bit of massage and applying nail polish. It’s all about using these weird drill like tools : The first time I had it I didn’t understand why the woman wanted to sand my toe nails!

    So yeah, pedicures are wonderful, and I miss them in France.

    • I had never seen any nail bars in France until recently, I spotted a few in Nantes. But they were fancier than the ones in Canada, and much more expensive too. Yuck, drill tools? Seriously, this doesn’t look relaxing at all!

      Just out of curiosity, how much did you pay for a pedicure in France?

  5. I love going to nail salons to get a manicure and pedicure, but i get embarrassed because i am ticklish with my feet so i tend to start laughing hysterically when they start massaging my feet lol ! I have to concentrate really hard not to make a fool out of myself. My sister recorded me once, it was hilarious lol

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