The Real Social Networks (And Shrinks) Are Still At Your Local Bar And Beauty Salon

Enter the confessional
Enter the confessional
Laure Belot

PARIS - What kind of haircuttee are you? Do you belong to the mute or the verbose category?

At the hair salon, we apparently tend to be rather predictable. "About six out of ten people will just listen to what the hairdresser says. The others mainly need someone to talk to," says Anthony Galifot, hairdresser in Nantes, a city in western France, and author of Autour du fauteuil Around The Chair.

Although the phenomenon has not yet been documented, these new kinds of confessionals have significantly proliferated over the past 50 years. Goodbye churches, hello hair salons, beauty parlors, bookstores, art dealers, antique shops... And of course, cafés.

The explosion of social networks and all things digital over the last decade hasn’t changed anything. In real life, hundreds of thousands of service providers and shopkeepers find themselves dealing with their customers’ daily pains and woes.

Mothers struggling with teenagers, unfaithful partners, health problems... These wet-haired monologues can last anything from a couple a minutes to over an hour. "For about a year, clients have also started to talk more about work. They are afraid of being fired, or are stressed out because they have to juggle several jobs," says Johanna Cohen, a Paris-based beautician who says that about half her customers share their worries while getting a haircut.

"In these kinds of places, people place themselves in our hands, both physically and mentally," says Soledad Ottoné, who used to be a bookseller in Santiago, Chile.

"It’s important for people to find for someone to talk to– who’s not part of their family," adds Alexander, also a bookseller.

According to these modern-day confessors, sharing personal problems even follows certain rituals. "It’s when we cut their hair that people tend to engage, when our mouth is closest to their ear," explains Alain, a Parisian hairdresser. In beauty salons, it happens “during waxing, not massages," says Ms. Cohen, "when people are lying on their stomach and can’t look at us anymore."

Barroom confessions

At the bar however, people get talkative "after 11pm, when they can’t sleep because they’re not tired… Or too tired," says Arthur, a bartender who admits that his degree in sociology helps him maintain a certain distance with the customers. He says sometimes confessions can get a bit out of hand: "One day a man sat at the counter and bluntly greeted me with: ‘My father has just died.’"

"Last summer, while she was looking at a painting, a woman blurted out: ‘It’s the kind of blue my mother liked,’ and burst out crying," recalls Françoise Livinec, an art dealer.

These secular confessors can even manage to uncover their clients’ inner dilemmas. "The people who never know what haircut they want usually prove equally undecided when it comes to life decisions. Others just don’t like themselves and will never happy with the way they look, whatever the haircut," explains Gontran Sarret, former hairstylist at Paris’ luxurious Le Royal Monceau hotel, now a mobile hairdresser.

"I told a customer that in all the paintings he’d bring me, the skin of the characters was hidden," says Christian Deleruyelle, a picture framer. "My client was overcome with emotion and said: ‘I was beaten as a child.’ That’s when I knew it had gone too far."

What do the real shrinks have to say about all of this? The multiplication of these intimate revelations in shops and stores "is a symptom of a society that lacks human contact. From the moment it’s born, a baby needs milk and interactions with other people. Humans have adapted pragmatically and found new places where they could exchange with each other," explains psychoanalyst Monique Dechaud. The author of Cet autre divan The Other Couch admits that the shrink frenzy of the 1990s and dogmatic schools "might have hurt the reputation of psychologists/psychiatrists."

Françoise Livinec, a former psychologist in a psychiatric hospital, witnesses such moments of intimacy in her art gallery everyday in Paris, where she has created a "place for talking, a poetic museum where everything is for sale" ( in Huelgoat, a village in western France. "We are living in a digital age, and friends told me I was crazy, but today where else is there still room for human interactions?" she asks.

Visitors can opt to deliver their confessions on camera, and have the videos posted on YouTube. The cloud is thus becoming the new custodian of confessions -- digital ones, that is.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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