It’s a business meeting with two 30-something women I’ve never met, the wrong place to bring up anything personal. I know that.
The hour is nearing an end. Nearly all the serious stuff is done. This is actually a delicate moment. Things can be screwed up moments before all is said and done.
One of the women praises the fresh nails of the other.
What am I to say? Small office, we’re sitting around a desk.
“Both of yours look great,” I say. “But the craftsmanship is so interesting I have to ask, why is one nail different on your four hands?”
“What do you mean?” one says.
The woman in charge has eight nails a slate blue but the ring finger on each hand is moss green. The other woman has eight bright red nails and her ring fingers a bright yellow.
“Your third fingers are different from the others. That’s cool. Do you go to the same salon?”
No. Maybe their smiles at me are shifting very slightly.
“Does it signify something, a group you both belong to?”
No. Now they’ve glanced at each other.
“It’s just the latest trend, Ben,” says one. “There used to be a lot of flash, now the fashion seems to have moved to this.”
“Oh, OK. I guess my wife hasn’t picked this style when she goes in. It’s new to me. Entirely new. I like it!”
The meeting ends with handshakes and glad-to-meet-yous all around. The second woman walks me out, as she had escorted me in — this is at a secure office building. And our talk then is about the business and full of good cheer.
My hoped-for outcome did not happen. This is likely because the project changed between the appointment being made and my showing up, and we went over that in the meeting.
But what if I said the wrong thing?
• • •
Growing up, people’s living rooms had knick-knacks on coffee tables, perhaps an elaborate table lighter for cigarettes, or a figurine bought on an exotic trip. In the 20th century at least, they were called “conversation pieces.”
As a boy, I was taught that those are for when the talk is lagging. “Say, that is one unique snow globe. Where did you find it?”
We tend to wear our conversation pieces. Casually, it’s our logo T-shirts. “Where did you catch Neil Young on that tour?” “We saw him in Tulsa. It was awesome!”
All too quickly, though, with appearances gender issues come up, and they have to be respected. They should be.
Which matters are off-limits or open for comment has come to be pretty clear, but fuzzy edges do remain, don’t they. Men apparently see the borders as vague, while women generally maintain they’re are as clear as a lacquer finish.
If it’s especially flagrant, isn’t one expected to ask about it, to remark upon it? Some folks are hurt if you don’t notice, for example after a makeover.
A shoulder tattoo on someone given to wearing sleeveless garments, an ankle tatt on the sockless. It’s OK to ask, “Who’s Pearl?” I get that.
There’s Jill Abramson’s New York Times logo Gothic “T” on her back. Few have seen that outside the swimming pool, but she’s talked about it several times in the press. It came up again since she was fired as executive editor a few weeks ago. Her daughter quickly posted a photo of Abramson in gym clothes hammering an old-fashioned punching bag, for the symbolism, no doubt. No T, but there’s another one on her right shoulder.
Fair game, then.
On the other hand, I never ask about piercings, ever, women or men. Why? For me, those are just decorative. The earrings, studs or hoops sometimes are not be to my liking, all the better to shut up about them.
So, how about digits? Before, when a woman has has exceptional work done on fingers or toes, they don’t mind the praise, especially when there’s some bling to them, such as glitter or tiny paintings.
Which now, I’ve learned is passe.
• • •
Thanks to Google, today I’ve learned this manicure set-up is called “accent nails.”
The Italian edition of Vogue magazine notes that the ring finger is the one outstanding, perhaps to indicate romantic status, much as a ring on the ring finger does — “Ring Finger Nail Polish.”
However, the outlandish Jezebel website calls the practice “finger-flagging,” to indicate sexual preference in its story, “The Finger-Flagging Manicure for Ladies Who Are into Ladies.”
How’s this for a new trend. Where now it’s high courtesy to silence smart phones for important meals and meetings, let’s allow them. I want to “search” phrases and topics before uttering a thing.
A new etiquette.
Copyright 2014 Ben S. Pollock Jr.