Last night, my friend Kristin and I decided to head out to our favorite little nail place in D.C. to get manicures and pedicures.  I had not had my nails professionally done in about a year, so I figured that I could justify a trip to the salon in the name of girls’ night out.

We headed to Mimosa in Dupont Circle, where we’ve gone for the last 2 years for birthday mani-pedis, or in this case, for “we’re exhausted from work” mani-pedis.  Apparently we weren’t the only ones needing to be pampered, however, and we had to wait for about an hour before getting into the wonderful massage chairs.

Oh, it was worth it though–as most girls will attest, having someone else do your nails is truly a treat.  They have all of the fancy little nail tools to make your cuticles look great, and they paint the polish on smoothly and perfectly.  I do my best when I paint my own nails, but at times I struggle–my fiance Leon once saw my self-painted toenails after I had slopped on some polish (hey, I was busy that week) and remarked teasingly, as only a guy can, that it looked like a kindergartner had painted my toes.

As Kristin and I sat in the plush chairs and enjoyed our pampering session, I thought about the mani-pedi and its context in the international realm.  Mani-pedis are pretty much universal.  From Asia to North America, most women don’t mind getting their nails professionally done.

I’ve had mani-pedis in several countries, and while the experiences have slightly differed depending on the location, overall they have been somewhat similar experiences.

My first mani-pedi overseas took place in Madrid, where the salon had a little basement area and the Spanish manicurist had to fill a plastic tub with hot water upstairs and then carry it downstairs for my pedicure (I remember praying she didn’t fall down the stairs and spill hot water everywhere-ouch).  I found that in western European countries (with the exception of England) overall, there isn’t much space and they don’t have the big, fancy chairs like we do in the U.S.  It’s a more modest experience, but hey, it’s still a mani-pedi.

Having a mani-pedi in London was quite reflective of British culture, interestingly enough.  After turning in our Masters theses, my friend Kora and I decided to celebrate by going to a well-known salon in London to indulge in mani-pedis that we knew were way overpriced but wanted to try anyway.  They had the fancy massage chairs like we do in the U.S., and I assumed that it would be like having my nails done in Dallas.  In true British fashion, however, the British ladies doing our nails weren’t very touchy feely.  Usually in the U.S. they rub your feet at least, and maybe your calves.  Not in London though–true to the more stoic British demeanor, my lady didn’t touch me except when she needed to use the pumice stone on my heels.

By far, my favorite place to get my nails done was in Asia.  Mani-pedis, at least in Europe and North America, are considered luxury services and you definitely have to budget for them.  In Asia, however, everything related to salon services–massages, waxing, body scrubs, mani-pedis, etc.–are considered essential to well-being.  My Asian friends take great care of their skin (my Korean friends shamed me into moisturizing twice a day, as they told me bluntly, “You American girls, you don’t take care of your skin! You look old when you are young!), and they place a high priority on having well-kept nails, hair, and skin.

It’s also easy to view pampering as necessary for personal maintenance when salon services are cheap.  One thing I absolutely loved about living in Asia was that I could afford to be pampered on a regular basis.  In Seoul, I could get highlights, a haircut, a special hair mask treatment, a manicure, a pedicure, and an eyebrow waxing for a grand total of about $90.  Having all of those services done in the U.S., for instance D.C., would probably set me back about four times that much.  So, I got my nails done regularly in Seoul, and while traveling in Thailand and Indonesia, I made a point to experience mani-pedis there.  In Asia they also give you more massage time on your feet than anywhere else, a definite plus.

Wherever the mani-pedi experience, it’s always nice to leave with shiny, healthy looking nails and feet that feel much smoother.  I probably won’t get my nails done again anytime soon, but I’ll plan on saving up for a future trip to the salon.  Or a plane ticket back to Asia.