Vietnamese nail salons something of phenomenon in Czech Republic

While in the 1990s immigrants from Vietnam ran many of the Czech Republic’s outdoor markets, in recent years they have won an increasingly large share of the corner store sector, with Vietnamese shops now an extremely common part of the Czech urban landscape.

Indeed, on a street very near where I live there is a stretch of about 50 metres in which there are four different Vietnamese general stores, three of which seem to do really good business.

Often you will notice a Czech-run shop close down only to be reopened within weeks by Vietnamese traders, offering longer opening hours and a broader range of merchandise.

Vietnamese people, who make up one of the Czech Republic’s biggest minorities, also seem to run many, if not most, of the country’s “Chinese” restaurants.

Cheap “Chineses” actually started to appear prior to the Vietnamese corner shop phenomenon, with scores of them springing up all over the place around a decade ago, if memory serves.

Typically such restaurants charge around three euros for meals whose main virtue, it’s probably not unfair to say, is that they are quick and filling.

But there is also a third, perhaps more surprising element of the Vietnamese business revolution: nail salons offering manicures, pedicures, elaborate varnish jobs and nail jewellery.

The first one I noticed was around the corner from Czech Radio in Vinohrady. Its name – The Nails (in English) – tickled my funny bone.

So did its garish shop window display featuring lots of rubber hands with extravagantly painted and decorated nails. Indeed the highlight is a small plastic model of the Statue of Liberty with a rubber hand attached to the top of the torch. Classy.

By the way, the sign outside was later changed from The Nails to Euro Nails American Style, which does sound a bit silly but Czech nails are of course European nails and the style may indeed be American, for all I know. In any case, it probably sounds more appealing than Czech Nails Vietnamese Style.

The incredible thing is that while five years ago there were apparently no such businesses in the Czech Republic, now there are around 200 in Prague alone.

How have they taken off so quickly? Is it a case of ‘if you build nail shops, they will come’?

And how come, if there are 200 of them, you never seem to come across women in Prague with the kind of elaborately decorated nails you see on the rubber hands in the window of Euro Nails American Style?