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Ottawa is a Good Place For My New Nail Salon Addiction

Footprint, Costa Rica, February 2014
Costa Rica, 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 ears 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 legs 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 topics 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 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?

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