Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ramadan Special: Mani-Pedi Nightmare in Tehran

TEHRAN -- Every girl needs a bit of pampering, particularly if she lives here, where almost everything is forbidden, especially during Ramadan, a month of prayers and fasting, all the more challenging in the dead heat of summer.

One thing about Ramadan though is all the specials on offer. I decided to treat myself to one of them: "Ramadan mani-pedi special" after one of my friends told me about a great salon she had recently discovered. (If you were wondering, yes, you can get into trouble for having painted nails because you can't wash for the daily prayers and therefore it's a telltale sign that you do not pray. Nail polish makes your hands and feet pretty and you are not supposed to have anything pretty either ... not officially anyway. This is Iran.

And this being Iran, why would it stop anyone from trying to look their best?

When I arrived at the salon for my 10 o’clock appointment, I was asked to pay $25 USD up front, which is not customary in most parts of the world. (Regularly, it's $30: 15 for nails, and 15 for toes. But even a $5 discount is considered 'special' here.) One thing about the Persian culture I will never understand is why everyone is in a rush to get paid before doing a job. This was the first warning sign for me to walk away, but I needed pampering so I paid and was told to seek out Sanaz.

A bulky woman, with hair color on her eyebrows, who I assumed was Sanaz, told me to sit behind a station. The mani-pedi station was the second warning sign telling me to walk away, which again I chose to ignore. The station was more like a desk under which my feet disappeared. No comfy chair I could recline in and let the professional take my feet into her own hands. After a ten-minute wait, another woman finally sat behind the chair opposite and asked me what I wanted, which seemed odd given that I had already paid for a mani-pedi. I told her the shape I wanted my fingernails and toenails to have and she asked if I wanted a manicure-pedicure? I said of course and then she asked the strangest question: you mean you would like to have your hands and feet soaked and your nails filed?

Being no stranger to mani-pedis, I was mildly unsettled. And yet again, I ignored the voice telling me to ask for someone else. So the process began.

She asked for my foot. As I had lost sight of my feet, I raised the left foot but she told me she wanted the right one. Skipping the soaking part, she began to file away and I crossed my fingers that she wouldn’t mess it up.

Meanwhile, the bulky woman whom I learned was the Sanaz I had made an appointment with, sat next to the girl working on my feet. One by one, the other girls in the salon came and she filed and shaped their nails for them.

A good 15 minutes passed before the girl supposedly working on my feet brought out a small basin with sudsy water and told me to put my feet in. She waited a few minutes before proceeding to dry my feet and ask me the color of nail polish I wanted. No foot scrub, no pumice, no exfoliation, and no lotion.

When I chose pink, the girl, who I was becoming more confident by the minute was the apprentice, told me to choose another color as ”pink is not suitable for toenails!” In Iran, "the customer is always right" is totally meaningless. I do not mean to frown on the Persian culture here, it's just that this concept is so unimaginable in this country.

After a few minutes of me holding my ground, she reluctantly painted my toes pink and then started on my fingernails. Again, she proceeded to file my nails before soaking them. I lost my temper at the point she started removing non-existent hangnails. I snatched my hand away and Sanaz told the apprentice she would finish the job!

Sanaz tried to correct the disaster her apprentice had created and avoided eye contact until I told her I wanted black tips instead of white ones. “But it’s a French manicure, how can you have black tips?”

I convinced her that the gospel of manicurists would not be unwritten, would not be lost, especially because no one would find out that this blasphemy was her doing. (Asking for your money back is not an option in Iran.) Before leaving, I complained to the manager of the salon who told me apprentices must practice to learn. “This is how it is done everywhere, even in kharej," meaning abroad, she said.

I came home with uneven nails, which I had to file myself. At least I had gotten the colors I wanted. -- Tehran Editor


  1. I really enjoyed this article. I lived in Iran only 2 years when I was 12 and 13. My mom was a manicurist in the US and so she was by far the busiest and most sought after manicurist in Tehran when we lived there. She'd love this article.

  2. I had a very similar experience whilst on holiday in Tehran a couple of years ago. My cousin took me to this new "top" salon before going to a wedding that evening. After seeing the badly bleached hair of the stylist I quickly changed my mind about having my hair done but opted for the safer manicure instead. I should have known better as the manicurist was over 60 and blind as a bat. Her odd collection of old gluey nail polish on display really said it all! On closer inspection I saw the polishes ranged from freebie from magazines to ones bought from cheap clothes shops in the UK! I had a couple of OPI colours in my bag so she used one of those and I felt so sorry for her I ended up giving them both to her at the end to keep. :) my nails were awful and I ended up redoing them myself when we got back. I didn't have the heart to tell my cousin what I thought as she was really pleased with her hair bouffant hair!
    But lesson learnt this year I'll be going with freshly manicured nails and toes to avoid any more trips to the "top" salon ;)