Four Points for Refusal

I was already in my second deep culture shock after only a week back in the U.S., having agreed to pay for a mani-pedi in Dallas roughly what I’d spend on a full week of decent restaurant dinners in Oaxaca. The Vietnamese nail technicians were chattering loudly to one another, working on but otherwise ignoring the three of us clients seated in vibrating massage chairs, feet soaking in sudsy hot water.


Of the two other women, one kept sighing loudly and irritably, the other — short dark hair sunbursted in front with a Cruella de Ville-style white streak and sporting zebra-striped palazzo pants rolled up to her knees — spoke loudly into her cell phone, holding us all prisoner to her conversation.

“So it was the last course400_F_1122612_ydMWpy8ASG4ZNfqznxcmvaOYq0fpUn and the best I’ve done in quite a while,” she said. “I was taking my time and there was a right jump, but I wasn’t going to make him approach in that awkward position, so I just walked him around and re-approached. It was one of our best jumps ever but I got four points off for refusal.”

You’ve got to be kidding me, horse jumping? I punched in the salon wifi code and surreptitiously Googled horse jumping. Here’s what my favorite non-credible (but often scarily accurate) source Wikipedia said: “Jumper classes are scored objectively, based entirely on a numerical score determined only by whether the horse attempts the obstacle, clears it, and finishes the course in the allotted time. Jumping faults are incurred for knockdowns and blatant disobedience, such as refusals (when the horse stops before a fence or “runs out”). Horses are allowed a limited number of refusals before being disqualified.”

Four points off for refusal? Which got me to thinking way beyond jumpers and dressage and all of the other horsie terms she was slinging around.

What if we got points deducted In life for refusal? Like at the Apple store where I couldn’t tell the nametagged “genius” quickly enough what was malfunctioning on my laptop, provoking an irritated eye rolling as he rapidly punched every button without telling this techno-dummy what he was doing, turning my 10 minute genius bar session into an hour and a half ordeal as all of my settings were lost. What if I’d refused to let him keep punching all the buttons within the allotted time? I was extrapolating the various possibilities when I was rudely brought back to reality.IMG_0774

The loudly sighing third nail client jerked her tootsies out of the tub, hurriedly wiped her feet dry and muttered “I don’t have time for this” as she hobbled out the door. Horse jumper finished her call and pedi and bugged out too, leaving me alone with the five nail techs who began shrilly arguing in Vietnamese.

I didn’t have to understand the language to know they were trying to figure out who had done what wrong and give apparently unsolicited advice to each other. There may be some contexts in which Vietnamese sounds nice, but this wasn’t it. Soon enough they all settled down from the simultaneous advice slinging and commandeered the massage chairs, where they took off their shoes and put their feet up.

I cooled my nails for a while longer under the ultraviolet lights and Yen, who spoke some of the only English in the salon, came over to collect my check for a gel nail polish, pedicure and peppermint foot rub with hot towels that she had wangled me into as I sat in a massaged trance. “When ladies not happy, I not happy either,” she confided. “Other ladies here they tell me what to do next time I cut foot and lady not happy.”

viet techs

Umm, four points for refusal — a dead stop finishing a pedi gone wrong. I tried to imagine my friends in Teotitlán del Valle filling the massage foot-soak-with-scrub-brush1chairs, feet soaking after a 12-hour day weaving or making tortillas on a hot comal. And I was thinking, those ladies would be plenty happy.

— Susan Bean Aycock,

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