Today I went and got a gel manicure with the boyfriend’s mom. She is, to a fault, one of the nicest most genuinely kind people I’ve ever met, or will ever meet. We had pho, laughed, gossiped a bit (who doesn’t?) and just chilled. It was one of our regular date nights, free of anyone else’s presence.
And I genuinely enjoy it. We always do that - shopping, or even just grocery shopping, a visit to the nail salon, getting a haircut, whatever, and then dinner or lunch. It’s one of those very chill relationships we just catch up with each other. And since moving to DC I’ve needed that, you know - just someone to hang out with to do something harmless or leisurely. And I’ve found that she is a great listener, and I’ve found that it’s wonderful getting her perspective. She’s a self made woman of the workforce - a lead software testing engineer - who has a lot of moxie, and likes to encourage those around her to push their boundaries to be great. Especially women. She always tells people they can do anything if they try hard and are sincere and good to people. So yeah, her confidence is amazing and refreshing to be around - and of course, she identifies as a feminist through and through and through. We laugh and joke that I date her son simply because we’re so alike that he wants someone like his mother.
Anyway, that’s not what I want to talk about.
A very quiet lady did my nails today. Her name is spelled Juh-ley, or as she pronounces it, Zulee. And it’s always awkward at first - someone is touching something as intimate as your hands, so small talk is inevitable. I’m used to initiating such things (and aren’t we all supposed to be?) because we interact with a number of people on a day to day basis. Communication is integral.
She was quiet though. But she had so much to say! She asked where I was from (India), if the lady with me was my mom (I laughed and explained she wasn’t), etc etc. And of course I, in turn, asked her about herself. She had recently moved here from Vietnam, only a year ago. She had a very good job back there but wanted to move to the states to be with her family. Only after asking how she liked it here did she admit she was struggling.
And she didn’t want to admit it, but I didn’t push her to talk. All of a sudden, she began to detail how hard it was for her to learn English (and very very difficult language to learn as a second language - there are so many rules and exceptions to the rules that it is mind boggling; and for those who say ‘this is America, speak English!’ I give a very big fuck you - you have no idea how hard it is for people to first leave their homelands and then face such adversity with a language barrier and bigoted minded people).
I said, look Juh-ley, you and I have nothing in common except English! Look how great you’re doing even if you’ve only been here a year! She paused her work on my cuticles, and from behind her little face mask I could see her smile with her eyes. She gave a small giggle and said thank you, you are very kind, nicer than most people.
And this infuriated me. I then asked her if customers were not nice to her. She quickly said no that’s not what she meant, that they’re polite and she loved her job.
From the looks of it, I really doubted it. It was a half hearted attempt to seem happy. She missed home, she probably didn’t enjoy her job as much as she did her old job, and not being able to communicate with people really takes a hit on anyone’s day. I put myself in her shoes and thought about how merely moving to DC was a transition in itself for me.
So then I asked her if she had any kids or anything, only because I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable. But she kept talking, so I listened. I highly doubt any customer of hers listened, so I did. And she said she really wants to go to school. Badly. She wanted to work in the medical profession again but was scared because of the language barrier.
I pointed to the boyfriend’s mom, who was on the other side of the room doing her pedicure. I briefly gave her story - a woman from India who, with confidence and patience, now has control of her career and even helps others who are starting out. Including me.
I also told her about my new boss, a man who didn’t have to hire me, but did so because he saw potential in me. I have no experience in the project management/IT field at all, but he was willing to show me the ropes. He started small and pushed me to try more things. I could never find an adequate way to repay him for the confidence he has instilled.
So I told her, be patient. You can do this. She paused again, smiling. You really think so? Yes I said. You can do this.
I wonder how often we come across people who are having a bad day - or a bad set of days - who really just need a bit of kindness. I wonder about where I would be if people hadn’t seen potential in me, or had given me a chance. And here I was, talking to a very lonely young woman who just wanted to learn. She kept saying that, over and over.
I just want to go to school and make something good.
And doesn’t she deserve that? Who is anyone to treat her like shit just because she started working at a place that most consumers see as an ‘easy’ job? Like hell it is, people inthe service industry have it just as tough. You don’t know their stories. I see it all the time. Americans (and I’m not singling out any race here) just treat people in the service industry like utter garbage. And I really, really hate that. Do me a favor - next time you’re getting your nails done, or your hair cut, just listen. Listen to the condescending tones people take with those providing a service.
So I kept talking to her. I told her she is very very smart, given she knew no English a year ago and was able to have a full conversation with me about how there are a lot of Indians in Ho Chi Minh city, how Bollywood is on their televisions, how she loved Indian soaps, how she loved Indian jewelry. She wants to go to India, she wants to travel. She wants to do so many things, but she doesn’t have the confidence because at this small salon in a corner of a suburban mall, patrons talk down to her, picking away at her confidence to do any of that.
Well, fuck that. I told her she can do anything she wants. She just has to keep trying. Even if she makes a mistake speaking English, that’s okay because she’s learning. Doesn’t she deserve that? Doesn’t she deserve all the best things if her heart is in the right place?
She gave me a hug before I left. It was one of those one armed hugs. I’ve become semi claustrophobic lately, but I let it happen. All I did was talk to her, and from the look in her eyes, it seemed like I made a world of a difference.
I don’t want to walk away from my experience with Juh-ley tooting my own horn. If anything, I’m pissed at people who have treated her and continue to treat her like shit.
Like really, who is anyone to scrape away at someone just because they happen to be providing a service to you? Are they less than human? Are you any better than them? No. So shut the fuck up. Appreciate your goddamn privilege, and shut the fuck up. Be nice. Listen. Instill some confidence in a stranger. Smile, for God’s sake. SMILE AT SOMEONE WHO IS DOING SOMETHING FOR YOU. For all the assholes out there, you could at least offset their negativity by pushing some positivity in someone’s day.
Check your privilege, and do good by people, even if they’re painting your nails or cutting your hair or changing the oil in your car. Be good, do good, pass it on.
Stand up for what’s right, not what’s going to further polish your privilege.