Getting ready to travel in the winter, both to Thailand and to any other winter destination, always includes taking a good look at my finger and toe nails. After all, when fall arrives and feet are covered due to the weather, it is easy to let that task slide. Even in Arizona, by November it is often cool enough to ignore the sandals. So, by the time the holidays arrive and it is time once again to travel, it is also definitely time for a PU day (personal upkeep).

This year, for some reason, that didn’t fit into my schedule. So I arrived in Thailand with unpainted nails. That may seem very unimportant to some, but it is one of those cultural differences in expectations that is, at the least, nice to know. Beautifully manicured digits is a sign of status, suggesting that the bearer does not do the housework at home! Our own culture had a similar status indicator in our past: white shirts on males were a sign both that they could afford it, and that they enjoyed a certain professional status.

It makes sense that I rarely have beautifully “done” nails when at home. After all, it is expensive and time consuming to have them done at a shop. Whether I do them myself or have them done, they do not last because here we do dishes, tote and haul, clean house, and many other chores and activities that tend to break and chip fingernails and polish.

In the early days of my work in and visits to friends’ homes in Thailand, I would always offer to help clean up after meals, and I expected to carry my own shopping packages or bags into and out of the house. However, when I offered, my friend would always respond, “The maid will do it.” I quickly learned to adapt to the local customs. Then, when my Thai friend came to visit at my house for the first time, she would offer to help clean up. My response was always, “The maids will do it.” Then we both would laugh; she had lived for a few years in the U.S., and knew very well that very few of us have maids to clean up after us.

However, we did reach a compromise when she came to visit. On her first visit, I had plans of which restaurants I would take her to try. After a day and a half of that, she was tired of our food and said, “We will cook at home.” That began my lessons in cooking Thai food. She would cook, and I would stand close at hand with a notepad and paper and write down recipes and techniques. And then I would clean up. It was a great compromise.

Another compromise was made when her older son, Ike, was going to live with me while he attended the University as an undergraduate. With her knowledge of how we live in the U.S., she assigned a new task to her cook: Ike had to learn how to cook along with a few other household chores. He spent time with the cook, and was able to make enough food that he could sustain himself when I was not at home. He bought a rice cooker, and one pot of rice lasted through the week; he made different other dishes to go with the rice such as Thai omelet or stir fry. He didn’t take the rice cooker when he graduated and went to Berkeley for graduate school, so I still have it and it works well. That too was a good compromise that allowed us to adapt.

This year, when departing for Bangkok, I had not had an opportunity to “do my nails.” So I packed the small manicure kit that I have on hand, expecting to do it, or get it done as soon as I got there where it has been very inexpensive. One of the first things I noticed, however, was that almost none of my friends were wearing nail polish. I have not learned the reason yet, and I suppose it could even be that they too don’t spend the time any more.

Also, I have noticed that the shops where I have gone over the years to get hair and nails “done” no longer have manicurists on staff. Many have said it has become almost impossible to find a cook anymore, and some have started doing some cooking themselves. (Though to fill this void, many businesses have emerged that deliver home-cooked meals every night of the week!)

Because of this change I had observed, I decided I could put it off. And put it off. Finally, I concluded that I just wouldn’t do it at all.

Now, a few weeks later, I have been sitting on a beach in the Caribbean, contemplating my bare finger and toe nails. I think they won’t get finished on this trip either. And then I can forget about it until sandal season.