Listen, I don’t actually get manicures that often. Once, maybe twice a year. That’s why I always learn something from them each time.
Today, I went to treat myself after officially finishing my summer session of classes. And for those of you who have never gotten a manicure, never seen someone getting one on television, or never even heard of one, the ladies, from time to time will make small talk with their customers. They usually ask about harmless things– if you live in the neighborhood, the weather and if they’re feeling daring, they may ask about a significant other.
I entertain this kind of talk. When she was singing the praises of Los Angeles weather over Chicago weather, I agreed both in my head and out loud. Then she went on to talk about how much fun Chicago is in the summertime. And once again, she, my head and my out loud all agreed.
But then things turned. Mistakenly boosted by the confidence of our empirically correct agreement on completely benign subjects, she began to take more risks.
She broached the subject of gentlemen and I was willing to gab, but words came out of her mouth that made me wish I had a friend with me to silently communicate with. In the absence of a friend, I am certain I made a face.
After professing her love of redheads, she went on to make sure that I knew that Irish and German men were players. “You know that, right?” She persisted after I interpreted her question as a rhetorical one and didn’t respond. “You know that, right?”
“No, I didn’t know that.” I respond. I wanted to define a stereotype for her and let her know that that wasn’t really one of them, that she had just made one up. But, recognizing that she has sharp objects and easy access to my cuticles and that I have not yet agreed on a price, I opt to claim ignorance.
But then, somehow the topic of the diversity in Chicago comes up and she starts to list the Asian cultures that are prominent in the city. And I have to preface this, for all my readers: I am White– half Polish and half other many different things. I grew up going to a diverse elementary school and high school in Los Angeles and I was raised (it takes a village, you know) with an appreciation for multiculturalism. Also for the rest of this story, it is important to note that my best friends through elementary school were Filipino and based on the experience of the culture I gained by being welcomed in by their family (my best friends were cousins), I LOVE Filipino culture. Like really love it, in case you didn’t know what all caps mean. Will extra letters help to clarify? Looooooove it. I learned more and more about Filipino culture as I got older, from friends in high school and in college. The food, the commitment to faith and family, and karaoke. What more could you ask for?
So she’s listing the different Asian cultures and then she gets to Filipino. Already, I do not appreciate her tone. Say it peppier, woman! It deserves cheerfulness. Then, leaving the potential to have misinterpreted her tone in the dust, she begins to badmouth the culture, the people and once again asks for my agreement, “You know, right?”
“No. That’s not right.”
Somehow she continues, ignoring the fact that I am not in agreement, not in my head, not out loud. (Still with sharp objects in hand and price undiscussed). I stopped listening as I tried desperately to plot a return to the benign… Tell me again what I should buy to make it through a Chicago winter…
She then says something disparaging about another culture that I don’t know very much about. And I say something about how I enjoy learning about other cultures and about the richness that this learning has added to my life and my understanding of the world.
This gets the message across that I am not her audience. Finally.
So what exactly is the lesson here?
That people are kind of ignorant? Well, I kind of knew that.
That disrespectful people make me upset? Knew that, too.
That it’s impossible to tell someone that they’re ignorant without insulting them, and sometimes saying what you mean is more important than whether or not they like you? Yeah, I think that’s the one.