A day at the spa: weak nails, bad men and ironies of life

Single in the city:The woman who did my aunt's nails was in serious need of a manicure, and my masseur seemed in great need of a massage herself.

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'The shoemaker is barefoot and the carpenter's door is broken," says an old Arabic proverb. I was reminded of this earlier this week when I was at a spa with a visiting relative. The woman who did my aunt's nails was in serious need of a manicure, and my masseur seemed in great need of a massage herself. I took a moment to listen in on the conversations taking place around me at the salon, some of which were really quite funny.

"My nails got weak after my pregnancy, I don't know what to do. I am embarrassed to go out without my nails looking beautiful and long," said a pregnant customer, who was having her nails done with red polish. She was in her 20s, I would say, dressed in a beautiful blue dress and had just had her hair done at the hairdresser. She went on and on about her nails and her dilemma to the point that I started to laugh when I noticed the manicurist trying to divert the conversation by asking other questions, but no, the lady went back to her nails.

Finally, the manicurist said something like: "I have strong nails, but I haven't seen my daughter in five years." That did it. While each person's problems seem big to them personally, and should not be compared to others, what importance we give them depends on our own private history. Besides discussions of the weather and traffic and other small talk, there were surprisingly serious conversations talking place, mainly about marriage and fidelity. Both women in that conversation, the customer and the manicurist, expressed fears about how their husbands had developed "wandering eyes" and how they had been feeling especially unattractive and down these days.

Women, regardless of background and even language barriers, can always find common ground on the topic of men. At the salon, it triggered a ripple effect as women from other counters volunteered advice and experiences, and soon it turned into one of those sisterhood gatherings, everyone offering reassurances of "don't worry" and "men are babies". I wonder if men have similar discussions and come to similar conclusions about their wives and partners. They probably don't gossip as much at the spa however.

It took my aunt's subtle observation, from her perspective of living in France, to remind me of how privileged we are here for these pampering services. It costs three times as much to treat oneself to these services elsewhere in the world, and staff here are generally courteous and more generous if you are a regular customer. I remember my first manicure in Paris, where rude service turned me off manicures to this day.

Actually, before I moved here, I rarely bothered to treat myself to a massage or facial or any of the "fluffy stuff". Now I hear there are spas for children, and even for pets. Of course it feels great after we treat ourselves and our loved ones, and why not? Especially after a hard week running around and sitting in front of a computer, straining your eyes and back in the process. I can't wait to treat my own parents, who I think have never yet pampered themselves at a spa for a whole day.

They dismiss it whenever I bring it up as "not necessary". They have medical massages which are so painful, as I can personally attest, that I don't count them as a treat. Since I come from a household that dismisses this kind of pampering, it took a while for me to get used to going to a masseur here. When I finally did, I loved the experience and now always go to the same nice Chinese lady, who uses a mix of tradition and pressure points to break those stubborn knots in the shoulders. I thank her for it.

She told me her story, and how "in life, sometimes you have to do things you hate to survive". She decided to come here to work as a masseur to support her family, an ironic twist because she "never liked to even massage her own mother". In her family the younger people massage the elders out of respect, and everyone learns a bit about Chinese traditional medicine, especially since they couldn't always afford modern medicine.

The most common problem she sees in her customers? Loneliness. After saving generous tips from loyal customers like myself, I know that for this Valentine's Day she will not be available. She will be finally treating herself to a massage. rghazal@thenational.ae