How do introverts handle manicures?
October 8, 2019 6:13 AM   Subscribe

Can you take me through my imaginary social awkwardness of sitting there having someone do my nails? Skimmables for TL/DR in bold.

I'm looking for a job, and for professional reasons, I want executive-looking hands.I want a natural look, but serious, detailed and polished.

I'm looking at going to an inexpensive place but there's a higher-end place where I get my hair cut I'm also considering, but I think these questions apply to both types. I don't think for my goals it matters?

-What do there with some stranger detailing your fingers? I'm not chatty and it takes a lot of emotional energy to blather for half an hour. I can fill conversational space if I have to, but I'd rather flip through a magazine or my phone or basically anything else.

-I'm imagining getting my nails painted with some hard-wearing type of paint that is natural, complementary, and/or in alignment with my skin color. Can you recommend some specific colors (name brands are good) that are in style? (For foundation, my skin is usually the second-to-lightest skin color. My hair is light brown. My eyes are greenish. I wear a lot of neutrals.)

-I want my nails just barely past the tips of my fingers -- the shorter the better, within the boundaries of 'aiming to look professional'. Are there situation-specific words to use to describe "short" besides "short"?

-I assume I tip 20%. If I'm wrong, tell me!

-How often do I have to do this, assuming I want to keep it up?

I am too old to be asking questions like this, but here I am.

Reassure me/help me with a little of my ignorance and not make an ass of myself?
posted by A Terrible Llama to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would go with something like Ballet Slippers, in a gel polish. That lasts a long time. Ballet Slippers is a classic neutral color.

You could just tell the nail tech that you are tired after a long work week (or work day), and need to relax.

My salon, where I get my pedicures, has a card reader that allows me to add a 20% tip right on top of my charge. If not, then yes, 20% is acceptable. You can give the cash to the receptionist and ask that s/he pass it on, or give it directly to your nail tech at the end. Be sure to thank them, I forgot once and my pedicurist said, "do you like it?" And of course I did, I was just distracted, but now I make it a point to be a little more effusive at the end.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:19 AM on October 8 [2 favorites]

Inexpensive is fine, my spendy nails are not better than my inexpensive nails.

Just tell the woman what you want, put in headphones, and smile. She'll get your attention if she needs you.

The colour you want is Nude. Every salon will have their own brands of polish, just pick one from the swatches they give you. If this is going to be a major point of stress for you, arrive early and ask if you can see the colours.

The length you want is "clipped short." You can actually show her on your nail how short you want it.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:22 AM on October 8 [4 favorites]

(Not thread-sitting, missed a detail -- sorry -- if it matters, I'm solidly middle-aged.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:24 AM on October 8

I would actually suggest you maybe buy a bottle of ridiculously expensive Dior Nail Glow, a glass nail file, a metal cuticle pusher, and cuticle cream. Because it's just basically a fancy topcoat, it's pretty forgiving. Do this twice and it's paid for itself and you've never had to figure out the chair socializing question. One of those reviews calls it "the nails of Old Money", which I think is just spot on. Store it in the box so UV doesn't degrade it.
posted by hollyholly at 6:31 AM on October 8 [23 favorites]

You have no obligation to be chatty if you don't feel like it. Just be polite and kind, and a good customer who tips generously.

If the nail tech is solicitous of conversation, maybe you could look at it as an opportunity to practice sitting with something a little out of your comfort zone - but that doesn't mean you have to be super chatty or anything.. just make brief small talk. I'm sure there are plenty of nail techs who find chatting tiresome as well, just like you. But, it's a part of the job..

If part of your social anxiety is feeling put on the spot or self conscious, remember that mostly people are thinking about their own complex lives and not paying nearly as much close attention to you as you think - try to think of it from the side of the woman doing your nails.. you will be one in a long day of many customers , in a week of the same - - if i saw that many people I wouldn't be attending all that concentrated-ly to how skilled or not they each were in the realm of polite chit chat, if at all.

alternatively, I imagine you could do a nice job yourself at home and save some money.. with a nude color it's hard to mess up dramatically..
posted by elgee at 6:33 AM on October 8

I’m an introvert, and I love getting mani/pedis. After politely letting the tech know what I want, I immediately get out my phone or kindle and there is no chatty conversation at all. I’ve never gotten the impression that the nail tech thinks I’m being rude or antisocial. I’ve also noticed that there are other people like me in the salon—not everyone is chatting away, although some do.
I always tip 20%—I have the cash ready in an easy access part of my purse (so I don’t mess up my newly beautified nails!) and give it directly to the nail tech at the end.
posted by bookmammal at 6:46 AM on October 8 [1 favorite]

What everyone else said, and I go with a friend. (It's actually our spring ritual.)
posted by JawnBigboote at 6:53 AM on October 8

No need to feel bad if you are not chatty. Just be nice, polite, say that you are tired and want to relax quietly. Say Thank You at the end, give a tip.

Conversation with you takes time and effort from your nail tech, too— even if they do enjoy talking with customers.

About conversation: it is something that your nail tech has to do, even if it does take their time and slow their work down; and manicurist might be tired just like you.
posted by Oli D. at 7:04 AM on October 8 [2 favorites]

Cheap places often have big TVs on that give you something easy to look at (I find it hard to read a book or scroll on my phone while getting a manicure because the tech needs to be switching between hands pretty frequently).
posted by Bebo at 7:05 AM on October 8 [3 favorites]

I would recommend against a higher-end place. Definitely not better. It's okay to be quiet.

As for a product, I'm pretty into the Essie TLC polishes. They've got integral base and top coat, so extra products aren't necessary for quickly touching up at home. For you, try Tonal Taupe, which is an extremely sheer, neutral color and sounds like it would suit your coloring. You can buy it for $10 online or at Target and bring it with you to the nail place. If you have it done there, they'll add base and top coat; this is fine.

Weirdly, I also recommend doing a mani-pedi instead of just a mani. Having more going on makes the time go faster, it's the most common service, so the staff is well-practiced in what to do, and, crucially, in my experience, the staff members often talk to each other, instead of me. Doing just a mani seems to leave me with less to do, so I tend to try to talk, an error.
posted by purpleclover at 7:15 AM on October 8 [3 favorites]

Im rough on nails and like to pick at them. When i was getting my nails done i got what is called sns, dip, or powder depending on where you go. Its harder wearing than gel, sort of acryllic light. I think for your situation a light grey would be nice. The pale pink or nude colors always made my nails look weird because its too close to my skin tone, like i had skin nails. I am also pale like you. A cool light grey will make the nail stand out but not clash with outfits. You will just go through swatches at the nail salon. I was usually the only person getting my nails done without earbuds and i just watched the tv and didnt talk except to explain what i want. They will get your attention to approve length and ask if you want a tip put on any nails you may have broken or chewed off. I got them redone once a month, but should have gone maybe 3 weeks. The experience was much less scary than i thought it would be.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:24 AM on October 8 [4 favorites]

I've done the Manicure As An Extreme Introvert situation and yes, it's likely to be chattier than you'd like. I didn't find it to be an experience where I could have been messing about on my phone or listening to headphones. But you can do polite but vague and short responses and let the person fill in the gaps with chatter if they must, or if you're a braver sort of introvert than I, go ahead and lead with the "I'm tired, would like to sit quietly / watch TV / people-watch" thing, and it'll probably be fine.

A thing I was not prepared for was to be asked what shape I wanted my nails to be - I didn't know there were names for nail shapes! I'm guessing you might not either. But they can be square or oval or pointed or whatever. If you basically like what you have now but just want it a bit shorter and more polished-looking, you can just say exactly that, it's fine if you don't know the Correct Manicure Terms.

20% tip is absolutely fine. Some salons will only accept tips in cash, so that's something to be prepared for or to check the website about ahead of time.

FWIW, if you happen to like the idea of doing a mani-pedi, pedicures were in my experience infinitely more enjoyable for my quiet self. You've got your hands free and it seems to be totally expected that you'll mostly just be reading, messing on your phone, etc., the staff chat with each other, it's fine and nice.
posted by Stacey at 7:34 AM on October 8 [2 favorites]

I've gotten manicures at least monthly for about 20 years. At most Vietnamese run places, you are only required to say hi, how are you, looks good, thank you, and good bye.

Also pay in cash and for sure tip in cash.
posted by k8t at 8:06 AM on October 8 [14 favorites]

I now do SNS powder dip nails but for anything like that or gel or acryillic, please be aware that you'll have to go back for maintenance in 3 weeks (or to get it taken off) and your under nails will be impacted and not for the better. If you're in the groove of having them done like this it is fine, but for a newbie, it is a big commitment. It does look a lot nicer than a regular manicure tho. They don't chip and look really good for about 2 weeks.
posted by k8t at 8:10 AM on October 8 [4 favorites]

Nthing everybody who says there is no obligation to chat.

Short nails is fine, think about what shape you want them so you can answer that question. If you’ve never had a manicure also be aware that polish that is not fully dry is generally incompatible with rummaging around for your wallet. So keep your cash or card handy. You may even be asked to pay before they apply the polish for that reason. They may also have a drying bar where you sit around for a few more minutes until the nails are touch dry.

They will have a menu of manicures. Work out if you want the moisturising mask and/ or massage as well.

As to how often you need to do this. Very much depends on how fast they grow and on how hard you are on your nails. I can get three good weeks and a slightly iffy fourth week out of a gel polish. I am not hard on my nails and they tend to grow slowly. The fourth week is iffy because I have short nail beds and a month of regrowth looks like a lot, compared to the polished part of the nail. The tips are normally still fine. And gel is dry when you leave, no smudging. But gel is a commitment because the polish needs to be soaked or filed off. You can conceivably do this yourself but it is annoying and much easier to let the salon do it. This is normally the most expensive option.

If gel polish is not your thing you can get a good two weeks+ out of long-wearing polish like OPI’s infinite shine range. This has the added bonus that you can just remove it like normal nail polish. This is less expensive than gel but probably will have a surcharge over regular polish.

Most regular polish I can get up to a week’s wear out of. You can achieve quite nice results at home even if you are ‘unskilled’ as if you stick to forgiving colours. Essie have a range of treatment polishes, linked above, that are very sheer and neutral. I love the idea of the Dior nail glow as well.

You don’t need to have a full manicure, they will also just polish your nails, if you find that it no longer looks nice but it’s only been a week. Or you just remove the polish and keep going with some of the neutral and forgiving options at home for a couple more weeks until you head back to the salon. Finally, invest in a good hand cream as well moisturised hands and cuticles go a long way toward maintaining nice looking hands.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:14 AM on October 8 [1 favorite]

Essie Mademoiselle is another nice neutral color. You can get it at Target, along with Seche Vite top coat. One coat of the color and one coat of top coat will last about a week. It it a great in between option, if you want to get a manicure, then do it yourself a couple times before going back. I like my nails short like how you describe, and I usually kinda clip them down to a hair longer than the desired length before I go, then have them just shape them. They will sometimes ask if you want "round or square" and you can say "natural" which will give you that rounded shape but not too round. I've also had good luck saying I want a "natural" nail color and having the tech pick one out for me. They tend to know which look the best from their selection; then if you're happy with it you can remember the color name.
posted by LKWorking at 8:16 AM on October 8

Select and purchase your own polish and take it with you to the salon. You can then touch up any chips etc at home at your leisure.
posted by cyndigo at 8:21 AM on October 8 [2 favorites]

> I'm not chatty and it takes a lot of emotional energy to blather for half an hour

I've only had pedicures done, but in my experience the pedicurist and I don't have a shared language and they talk to the other women working there, not to me.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:29 AM on October 8 [5 favorites]

I get my nails done - SNS dip manicure - which is hard-wearing and I usually get 3-4 weeks out of it. You can get SNS in any color and if you don't mind the maintenance, it's a good way to go. I lift weights and cook and generally abuse the hell out of my nails and they last. Gel is 2nd best for longevity IMO, and then a regular manicure is the least long-lasting.

In terms of cost, SNS is most expensive (I believe it costs me $60), gel is next (I think those were $30 when I was using gel polish) and a regular manicure is going to be slightly less than gel. I have zero intentions of ever doing my own nails and I am fine paying for this service, I would rather not do my nails at home ever. I have plenty of discarded nail polish to speak to that reality.

I do not chat. I stare at the HGTV and let my mind wander. The nail tech makes some desultory small talk, usually asks if I am tired or some such, and I just tell her yes, I am tired, work has been long, etc. and she leaves me alone. I tip well (20% is good, no worries). I am polite, because that costs me nothing, but I am also paying for a service (like paying for a lyft) and I get to decide if I feel like talking. Usually I do not. No one seems to care.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:32 AM on October 8 [1 favorite]

I get regular pedicures in sandal weather, say May to October, and the Vietnamese salon in my neighborhood is clean but not in any sense luxurious. It's family owned and all the employees are relatives with language ability ranging from native-born American to Vietnamese only for the older manicurist I've been patronizing. I bring my own polish because I am obsessed with one specialty color. Pedis cost $25.00 - for at least the 10 years I've used them there has been no price rise - and nearly everyone tips $5. I tip more because they do an excellent job and it's a job I wouldn't want to do, scrubbing people's feet. I think a reputation as a good tipper also helps me get appointments more easily during busy times, like Saturday mornings. At this salon you cannot put tips on a charge or debit, so I always carry cash.

They have TVs on all the time, while I would prefer silence, but there's very little chatting between patrons and staff, since most of the clients are watching TV. I take a book or wear headphones and tune it all out. This seems to be pretty standard, as opposed to a hairdresser, where it seems more common and expected to converse about much more than the technical aspects of the haircut I want.
posted by citygirl at 10:06 AM on October 8

I am a mani/pedi regular. I try to go every two weeks because if I wait longer than that (like this time), I pick at my nails and cuticles and then they look like crap. When I get in the routine of going every two weeks, they always look good, even I take the polish off in between.

I also like my nails short, but the nail techs I see (and I like their work!) really prefer me to have long nails (it makes them easier to file and work with), so be prepared to say "no, really, I'd like them shorter."

I always pay in cash and tip well - 20% is fine, yes.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 10:30 AM on October 8

As a non-chatty person, signaling it upfront can be helpful to them: oh, I have had such a long week, I am really looking forward to this to finally have some piece and quiet.

If you go to a place a few times it gets easier to figure out who chats because they feel obligated and if there's any technicians who chat to pass the time and are a little annoyed but okay with being quiet.
posted by typecloud at 10:46 AM on October 8

honestly you don't even need to get polish if you don't want to, really and truly. you can have everything done (cuticle trimming, nail cutting/shaping, filing down of ridges if applicable, moisturizing, hand massage, etc) up until the polish would go on and then just get your nails buffed to a shine. it's easy enough to maintain the shine on your own and just go back every few weeks to have things neatened up. it absolutely looks clean and professional.

as for specific wording, they will probably ask you if you want squared off or rounded nails, you can ask them to show you each of them rather than choosing between two things you don't really understand. or obviously you can image search for photos of each but it's good to see it on your own hand. whichever you choose, if you end up not liking it, it will grow out in ~2 weeks anyway.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:33 PM on October 8 [2 favorites]

For length I say I have to use a computer and be able to type. This is generally understood by everyone especially if you make typing motions. They will usually file something so it’s a bit square on the end. They’ll ask if that’s ok. Then I will kind of touch type on the table to make sure the length feels ok.

You can also find some pics you like on the webbers and show them for shape and color.

You may need to be very specific if you do not want gel or anything like that. Usually the receptionist person will speak English so you can be sure you are looking at the correct colors to choose from. Most people these days get at least the gel color which goes under the lamp. If you only want regular take-it-off-yourself polish be sure to say that up front.

I listen to an audio book sometimes.

Overall I find that in general I like getting mani pedis and that the technicians are rarely ever chatty with me, just each other :-) Hope you have a nice time!
posted by affectionateborg at 1:37 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]

I say this with absolute kindness, and because I think it might help your anxiety: The mani/pedi girls ultimately do not care that much about you. They want to do a good job, and for you to be polite to them and not make their lives harder, and for you to tip 20%. They, like, don't want you to die while you're in their chair or anything, but by and large they absolutely will not care if you don't want to make conversation with them! It's not like if you showed up at brunch and didn't want to talk to your friends. They'll be FINE if you're not chatty.

If you want "hard-wearing," get a gel. I type a lot, a standard mani does not last on me at all.

I personally go to a more expensive place, though, ever since I read this NYT piece about working conditions for manicurists.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 2:03 PM on October 8 [6 favorites]

At my usual salon only the receptionist really speaks English, so it's normal not to chat. It's easier to read a magazine when you're getting a pedicure than manicure, since both of your hands may be occupied with the manicure. Listening to music on your phone is a good signal that you don't want to talk.

In general, it doesn't make much of a difference to go to an expensive salon, but if you are ever in San Francisco, I have a recommendation for a place where a $35 manicure is worth every penny (not my usual place). The manicures from this place last *way* longer than anywhere I've ever been, and look absolutely perfect. They're also really, really good at shaping short nails correctly.
posted by pinochiette at 2:04 PM on October 8

Thanks so much everyone; this is all really reassuring.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:05 PM on October 8 [3 favorites]

In my experience, a cheaper place that only does nails will very often do a better job than a fancy place that does a lot of different things. You want the kind of place where the staff are doing only nails all day long.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:30 PM on October 8 [4 favorites]

For years I didn't get manicures because, even the good ones, would barely last a week. I'd open a can of beer or type, or exhale and bam! chipped nail.

They I got acrylic tips to see what it was like and it was AWFUL! They were waaaay too long and I barely made it a week. But there was one thing that I loved about them, my nails weren't sharp. If you scratched yourself, it didn't leave a welt. It was awesome. I went to a different salon, because I'd gotten the tips on vacation and explained what I had, what I hated, and what I liked. From then on I've been getting dip nails once a month. I go for bold colors, but there's a ton of pretty neutrals as well. The dip nails last through almost anything, in fact, I had an incident with a box from Ikea and it bent my middle finger nail back pretty bad. It hurt, but the polish didn't chip. A week later when I went in to get my nails done, we realized that nail was cracked to the bed and the polish was all that kept it from breaking off into the quick. My tech sealed it with nail glue and it grew out perfectly.

And 20-25% tip is solid as is not talking much.
posted by teleri025 at 2:49 PM on October 8

Definitely do not wear headphones, especially on your first trip - they will ask you questions and be motioning different steps, and it will be helpful if you're not pulling out earbuds every five minutes and making them repeat themselves.

First, they'll remove any polish you have on your nails currently. They'll bring a little bowl of warm soapy water and ask you to put one hand in it while they cut and file your other hand. Then your hands switch places. They'll ask you what shape you want your nails - you can just say something like "slightly rounded", there's not really a huge difference in most of the shapes. Then they'll work on your cuticles, which if you haven't done in a while can be a little painful, but this is the part that I feel really separates me painting my nails from the professionals.

Then they'll rub lotion into your hands, and do a little hand massage. Afterwards, they might bring a hot towel out and wrap your hands in it. While your hands are wrapped, they'll clean up the little water bowl and get all the polishes they'll be using in order. When they remove the towel, they will often ask you to pay the bill then - because they don't want you to mess up your freshly painted nails by digging around in your purse at the end. Some places do not accept tips on cards, so make sure you have enough cash. Once the bill is squared away, they'll paint your nails. It won't take that long. Then they'll lead you over to the fans (and they'll usually carry your purse or your coat), set you up, and walk away. You can leave whenever you want - you've already paid the bill. I usually stay ten or fifteen minutes.

For a normal polish manicure (not gel), I would estimate you probably would have to get it done every 7 to 10 days. The whole process takes about 30 minutes, so it's not a huge time investment. Have fun!
posted by airplant at 4:32 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]

Look up "nude manicure", choose one you like, take a screengrab on your phone, and bring it to the manicure. Most manicure places I've been to, it would be totally ok not to talk much. I just zone out and quietly watch them do my nails.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:27 PM on October 8

There are stacks of People magazine, often at least six months old, so not only are you indulging yourself by getting your nails done, but you're also indulging yourself by spending 30 minutes in a bubble reading trashy gossip.
posted by bendy at 10:02 PM on October 8

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