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Switzerland

Cyrano Dot Com? A French Service Offering Online Seduction

Top executives and even ordinary folks use the skills of the French company Net Dating Assistant to pose for them online and woo would-be lovers.

At an exhibit preview in Toulouse, in February 2012.
At an exhibit preview in Toulouse, in February 2012.
Alan Monnat

TOULOUSE — Matthieu Banas, co-founder of Net Dating Assistant, recalls the words of one of his businessman customers. "I delegate the recruitment of my interns for my company, so why should I be any different when searching for a partner?"

Based in southern French city of Toulouse, Net Dating Assistant offers a rather unusual service: finding (and keeping) its clients' soulmates on dating websites. From creating profiles, searching and even chatting in their clients' name. These "dating assistants" take care of everything, up until the first date, about which they will, of course, brief their would-be Romeos. Potential partners, they insist, never suspect a thing.

Ane who exactly are these clients? Mostly executives and managers and others who can afford the young company's rates — a 145-euro ($193) base fee, plus 16 euros ($21) per hour of follow-up seduction — and don't want to devote their precious spare time to skimming dating websites. But often, "Time is an excuse to conceal a lack of self-confidence or of knowledge of new media," says Julien, one of the 12 "dating assistants," who quickly acknowledges having met his own wife online.

This way of finding a mate is not to everyone's liking. "The conversations are intimate," one dating site user explains. "You can be seduced by a turn of phrase or a bit of humor when, actually, it’s all fake."

Of this personalized "service," an indignant Valentine Schnebelen, marketing director of the well-established dating website Meetic, says "It’s horrible!" But she acknowledges that there's no way of fighting these — what are they exactly? — usurpers.

"There is no identity theft, but simply the sharing of a username and password," Net Dating Assistant's Matthieu Banas says, countering the criticism.

Keeping it real-ish

The dating website giant Meetic actively dissuades such services. "We advise our 840,000 subscribers to remain true to themselves," Schnebelen says. "That's how it works."

That's not how Banas sees things. "A good profile is like a good CV," he says. "The recruiter reading it must be seduced and fear seeing such a rare pearl slip through his fingers."

Jacques, a 28-year-old disabled man, doesn't disagree. Thanks to his new profile created by Fanny, a young mother who e-seduces people to help pay for her studies, his rate of interactions has doubled.

To have an effective profile, Fanny carefully chooses the photos — "if possible, photos where the person is in action, at a concert, on a golf course," she says — by making sure that they represent her client well. Then she carefully writes effective, almost literary, messages on her clients' behalf.

Behold this little nugget: "I picture you in the morning, with tousled hair. You are so pretty. I get up without a sound." She has a talent for finding the right first words or to solicit a response when an initial missive goes ignored. Fanny tries her luck again with reluctant people by asking them if they prefer pancakes or waffles, or she asks other innocent questions "always in a light tone, and in perfect French."

Her skills don't go unnoticed in the eyes of Marc, a client who, like others, asked to protect his real identity for this article. Thrilled by one of the catch phrases written in his name, Marc copied it and sent it to a dozen other women on the same site who, unfortunately for him, talk among themselves. Furious, the first woman to whom he wrote soon wrote back to insult him. Marc answered — or rather Fanny did for him. "I didn't know how to calm her," Fanny says. "My boyfriend eventually helped me reverse the situation. He's a smooth talker."

Playing an alter ego is no easy task. It's important to know the customer and the town in which he lives, as well as be aware of the weather and the activities going on in the area. It's real research that needs to be done regularly for every customer. "When you have four or more customers, it becomes almost schizophrenic," Julien says.

Like Fanny, he says his satisfaction comes in "helping others." But still, don’t these digital Cupids feel there is a tragic divide between their humanist ideals and the fact that they lie by omission? "Everyone knows the Internet involves monumental trickery," Julien says, defending his work. "What counts is really meeting the person. It's love, whatever the means."

He and his colleagues say they have enabled more than 1,000 in-person dates, including a few in French-speaking Switzerland, where the service currently has only six customers, all men, such as Hervé.

From Geneva, this thirty-something works in finance and has recently started dating someone. But he won't admit to his girlfriend that it was with Julien that she shared the first communications of their romance. "Never. I'm the one who seduced her," he says. "I struggled for a month in the real world."

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Society

Star Trek And The Journey From Science Fiction To Pseudoscience

Fans of Star Trek live in a Golden Age where old and new series are readily available. As one hardcore Trekkie points out, the franchise is a reminder of the similarities and differences between pseudoscience and science fiction.

Image of holographic bodies standing next to each other in an office

Holographic figures of the same person standing beside each other.

Carlos Orsi

-Essay-

For my Trekkie part, I'm still a fan of the old ones: I still remember the disappointment when a Brazilian TV channel stopped airing the original series, and then there was a wait (sometimes years) until someone else decided to show it.

Living deep in São Paulo, Brazil in the 1990s, it was also torturous for me when “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” premiered on a station whose signal was very bad in my city.

I don't remember when I saw the original cast for the first time, but I remember that when Star Trek made the transition to the cinema in 1979, in Robert Wise's film, the protagonists James Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Montgomery Scott (James Doohan) and the Starship Enterprise were already old acquaintances.

And I was only eight years old. Nowadays, given the scarcity of time and attention that are the hallmarks of the contemporary world, I limit myself to following spinoffs Picard and Strange New Worlds and reviewing films made for cinema, from time to time.

So, when a cinema close to my house decided to show the 40th anniversary of The Wrath of Khan (originally released in 1982), I rushed to secure a ticket. And there in the middle of the film, I had a small epiphany: the Star Trek Universe is pseudoscientific!

This realization does not necessarily represent a problem: contrary to what many imagine, science fiction exists to make you think and have fun, not to prepare for a national test).

Yet in a franchise that has always made a lot of effort to maintain an aura of scientific bona fides (Isaac Asimov was a consultant on the first film, and the book The Physics of Star Trek has a preface by Stephen Hawking!), the finding was a bit of a shock.

And what made me jump out of the chair?

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