DEAR MISS MANNERS: I patronize a nail salon where all the employees are Vietnamese and speak only a little English. They do nails very well, their prices and location are good, and I’m not inclined to go anyplace else.
But I find it terribly awkward not to be able to chat easily with someone who is performing a personal service for me. I’ve seen other patrons there who come with friends and chat with each other, or listen to headphones, or sit with their eyes closed, perhaps meditating.
I don’t have a friend to go with, and the most obvious thing for me would be to take work-related reading and indicate that I “must” get some work done. But I can’t hold reading material when my hands are occupied, and there is no place to set it.
I have started requesting the same manicurist each time, since I think she is especially good, and she seems very friendly and sweet. I always tip her well. But after I have made sure her two kids are fine and we agree about the weather, there is nothing more we can talk about that isn’t too difficult.
I don’t know why this makes me so uncomfortable, but it feels like I’m being rude or I should try harder, and I actually get stressed about my appointments.
What I would most like to do is sit quietly and think my own thoughts. Is there a graceful way to do that?
GENTLE READER: And perhaps the manicurist would like to think her own thoughts.
Miss Manners is confused about whether you believe you should be entertaining her (and are rude not to), or that she should be entertaining you (and help more to carry the conversation).
In any case, chit-chat, beyond the exchange of pleasantries, is not part of the deal. And while some patrons and some workers enjoy that, it should be voluntary on both sides. While there are sometimes confidences exchanged between them, both workers and their clients sometimes complain that they would prefer some quiet.
Since you are happy with the work, the price, the location, and crave quietness, Miss Manners fails to see your problem.