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My Abu Dhabi Mani-Pedi Disaster

September 17th, 2011 · 2 Comments · Abu Dhabi, UAE

I’d never had a manicure. Or a pedicure. I just didn’t see the need. Someone messes with your fingernails/toenails for a while … cuz why? It makes you a better person somehow? Healthier? Can’t you just cut your own nails in about two minutes and be done with it?

Not getting it.

Now, I have done the mani-pedi thing. And I may have had one of the worst manis/pedis in the history of cuticles. I’m not really sure because I have no frame of reference.

What I do know is that I won’t be doing this again, even as an “unintended consequence.” Even as an accident. I will flee the building, instead.

Here is how it happened:

You know those internet coupons that have been big for a year or two? (Maybe three; modern life sneaks up on me.) Groupon and GoNabIt and FreeStuff or whatever.

You buy a service at a cut-rate price, usually from a business just starting or attempting to fill some dead time at their establishment.  Selling cheap to create a bigger customer base, I guess.

Well, let’s just say that someone where I live has been buying these coupons, especially for personal services pertaining to hair and nails and massage. And some of this ends up intended for me. Though not the hair stuff and not the nail stuff. Till now.

Turns out, I’m one of those persons who tends to want to frequent the same business for personal services. Even when they aren’t very good. Better the bad barber/dentist/doctor you know, that sort of thing. I’ve been going to the same awful barbershop here for a year now.

So, I have some one-hour massages purchased for me. It’s a nice thought. However, I get nervous at the idea of massage at places I’ve never been. “But it’s an hour for about 30 bucks!” So, off I go.

The first was at the office of a chiropractor I had seen here, so that didn’t make me particularly nervous, even if the massage was bad and also about 15 minutes short.

So, the second massage … at some random place in a city jammed with random masseuses and haircutters and nailclippers. The coupon called for a one-hour Swedish massage and a manicure and pedicure, but I was going to turn down the latter services.

Perhaps my first clue that this might not turn out well should have been how hard it was to find the place. “Across from the bus station, near the Red Crescent office” (remember, no street addresses in the UAE) … didn’t get me to where I didn’t really want to be.

Two phone calls later, after talking with an exasperated receptionist, I just started walking into businesses near where I thought I was supposed to be, and finally a Bangladeshi (I think) barber pointed me at the door of an apartment building.

Where I was going was on an upper floor of the building, but with zero signage outside I might never have found it. Which makes it a bit furtive, doesn’t it.

Meeting the exasperated receptionist, who was behind a desk at the end of the hall, was just as exciting for me as it was for her, and she summoned up the energy to nod toward a door, and in I went …

… to what struck me as a failed attempt at an opium den.

Dark. All windows covered. Pink furniture. Four employees from east Asia with dead eyes and empty smiles, slumped on various furniture. They looked as if they had been roused after passing out while partying, maybe only a few hours before, and it was 11:30 a.m.

Canned music, both classical and techno-pop, and an aggressive popping/gurgling sound that came from either the biggest aquarium this side of Dubai or a really cheesy fake fountain. (It was the latter.)

To be sure, it was not an opium den. The authorities here take a very dim view of powerful narcotics being consumed for fun, and an opium den would be out of business a day after it opened. It just suggested to me what an opium den might look like.

I was directed to one of the pink chairs, and a guy came out with a plastic tub of warm, soapy water in which to wash my feet. (Feet washing is very big here, which makes sense given that all the locals wear sandals.)

I then was led to one of the three little cubicles on the side of the room, and on the floor of this room, about 10 feet square, was a mattress and pillow covered by a blanket. The “technician” (we’ll call him) handed me a little package with something green in it (remember: very dark) and I just looked at it, and turned it this way and that, and the technician opened it and it turned out to be papery boxer shorts. OK. Got it.

There followed about 50 minutes of a Thai-style massage, not Swedish, which is not my idea of fun even when it’s done right. Mostly a lot of pushing and pressing on sore spots. Or, at least, they were sore by the time the by-the-numbers masseur was finished.

It was never pleasant; I remembered thinking “I’m gonna be annoyed if my back seizes up” as an achy spot near my sciatic nerve was gouged. And I was reminded that pain can make a person sweat.

The place’s professionalism came into play when, in the middle of my 50 minutes, my guy started having a loud coversation with one of the other sleepy guys who was on the other side of a wall or three.

Anyway, I was able to get up, afterward, and got dressed and planned my escape, once I had checked to see that the “fake purple leather” on the walls of the little room was wallpaper, and not actual fake purple leather.

Instead, the moment I opened the door I was promptly directed to a little guy who was sitting on a stool in front of one of the pink chairs and appeared to have a batch of tools at his disposal.

This would be the mani-pedi part of things.

Most of you probably know what these procedures are supposed to be about. Quite a bit of scraping of the base of the nails … digging around the cuticles … various clipping, some half-hearted buffing, perhaps, and an emery board for, you know, sanding off the final sixteenth-of-an-inch of your toes.

Just when this was supposed to be fun or even necessary, I never figured out.

The guy asked me where I was from. California, I said. He found this amusing. I asked him where he was from. He told me.

Somewhere around this part of the proceedings, after the guy had moved to my hands, he clipped off a part of my middle right finger that I actually need, a bit of cuticle that clearly was not extraneous. Perhaps he had decided it looked better that way.

I knew it hurt, but I didn’t know I was actually bleeding until I got outside and saw the red pooling up around my fingernail. (At least I didn’t get it on my clothes.)

Some of you who Know About These Things might be saying, “Well, of course, they can get a bit aggressive with cuticles” … or perhaps, “OMG, you had the worst manicure ever. Didn’t you know better than to sit there and take it?”

My finger bled for most of that day and hurt for several days. The tips of my toes (the skin) remain raw even now.  My nails are unnaturally short; I can barely open a poptop can.

Anyway, it was a disaster.  Since I’m not going to get another manicure or pedicure ever,  we will never know if it was badly done or I just don’t get it. I concede it definitely could be the latter.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bill N. // Sep 19, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Sounds badly done to me. Having had a few pedi’s (I prefer to do my own fingers), done right, it’s can be as nice as a foot massage. But it goes back to your column on the personal services… all depends on who you get and how much ya pay.

  • 2 Judy Long // Sep 23, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Are there such things as regulator agencies in the country where you now reside? Because what you suffered was not just incompetent but potentially dangerous.

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