BFFs In Their Natural Habitat: Getting Your Nails Did

So on Wednesday we discussed female animal friendships—they’re real and they’re deep.

To observe such relationships, anthropologists will travel into the wild to observe animals in their natural habitats.

As the wannabe Jane Goodall of friendship, I too have ventured out to study my subject. And I’ll tell you, there’s no better place to watch friends do their thing than at the nail salon.

I took a solo trip to get a manicure the other day, and, honestly, I could have stayed there forever. It’s a really fascinating place–pairs or groups of BFFs come in, settle into their comfy massage chairs, and talk about their biggest problems and innermost secrets at full volume, as if no one else can hear. Even when the chair next to them is holding someone (namely, me) who is pretty obviously listening in.

Mostly, women gossip. Nails salons are, as far as I can tell, the female version of the barber shop. Sitting quietly, you’ll learn of someone’s dating woes, marital woes, work woes, friend woes. You’ll likely hear her opinion on Kim Kardashian, what she’s doing this weekend, what she did last weekend, and who she did it and is doing it with. The other places where these conversations take place are probably the phone and a restaurant, and in both cases it’s hard for someone else to listen in. Not impossible, but it takes work.

At the nail salon, you have to work to not listen. Perhaps it’s that having someone massage your feet or hands relaxes you just enough. Or maybe it’s the relative quiet of the room. Whatever it  is, something is making women open up and share what’s on their mind. All while someone applies Ballet Slippers to their pinky toe.

If you’re ever wondering what other BFFs dish about on their downtime: go get a mani-pedi. Do what I do, call it research. Then tell me: What about these salons makes women feel as if they’re the only two in the room? Don’t get me wrong – I love it. But I’m definitely curious why BFFs will say anything they want in when getting their nails did, but suddenly on a plane, or at a larger gathering, not so much.


I had a great time reading from MWF Seeking BFF at Miller-Coors today as part of their Building Relationships and Empowering Women Initiative! It’s so wonderful to talk with groups of women about the importantance of making time for friends. 


Filed under The Search

13 responses to “BFFs In Their Natural Habitat: Getting Your Nails Did

  1. I think women feel free to speak loudly and freely when there are no men present, as is usually the case in salons.

  2. I’ll one up you. Last week while getting my nails done, a woman was having a 20 minute conversation on her cell phone while it was on “speaker.”
    She was speaking so loud as was he. At first I thought she was dictating some important document (The Gettsburg Address; part deux?) however as my regular manicurist and I listened to the nonsense spewing forth, smiling, we realized it was a conversation about a movie they had seen.
    It was not only rude, but disruptive. One girl walked in and while looking thru’ the colors heard the LOUD back and forth, said “Seriously?” and walked back out.
    I do like overhearing besties discuss their lives and opinions, especially single ones who live totally opposite lives than I do, but no one has the right to take over everyone else’s space.
    Has anyone else had such an experience or is NYC the only place where entitlement reigns?

  3. So true. At my nearest salon, I inadvertently hear all sorts of private stuff. Usually it’s not women chatting in person, it’s loud cell phone conversations. (Hmm. Also in NYC. Above commenter might be on to something…) Most often they’re fighting with or complaining about their boyfriends. My theory is that they think the primarily-female clientele will understand and sympathize, and, therefore, not be bothered by the intrusion.

    As long as they’re not yelling or sobbing – and I’ve seen both more than once – I don’t mind. I consider it bonus entertainment.

  4. great post! my girlfriends and i often go to nail salons together and yes, we are less than discreet while talking to one another. i think we assume that the nail tech (quite often a non-native English speaker) is not at all concerned with our repartee and that assumption widens to include those around us. but this eye opening blog entry reports otherwise. the woman in the chair beside us might be ‘researching’ so maybe we want to save the gossip for our next stop–the sushi bar 😀

  5. To me it’s a little like BFF exhibitionism, which is linked to domination. It’s as if the union of the friendship is so strong and powerful it has the right conquer the space. Actually, I sometimes wonder if it’s the act of conquering the space that comes to feel good, maybe even more than the actual exchange between the people involved. People like groups because they make them feel more or bigger than they are. When two good friends get together the feeling of being bigger or more is greatly amplified.

    If you really want to get experimental, you should see how the besties talk when they know they are being observed and when they think they are alone.

  6. Maybe it’s the somewhat intimate nature of the service that’s being done. When you get a mani-pedi you’re clothed, but you still have a stranger touching you and massaging parts of your body. The women get relaxed and just open right up.

  7. I believe it is the nature of the salon which is still predominantly female territory which allows women to open up & talk aloud about whatever they want to talk about. They don’t have to worry about a man trying to cut in & dominate the conversation or try to solve their problems.
    I do have to say I dislike women who take over a space (bus, etc.) by talking way too loud on their cell phones.

  8. Juliette

    I think you go to the nail with a girl friend to have ‘girl time’..and I think the best of ‘girl time’ includes bonding..and we share very personal info in the attempt to you just have to ignore the fact you might have a audience, and just get down to the business at hand!!! Talk about what the heck is goin on!!! No matter who maybe listening!

  9. I just came across your blog and I’m loving it! Haha, yes I’ve been in many situations as well when I’m gossiping with a girlfriend, and then suddenly realize we’re in a public place where almost anyone could hear what we’re talking about. After that thought has struck me, I usually look around, don’t see anyone I recognize, and continue babbling on. I guess it’s because when most girlfriends go out to get their nails done, it’s a way of catching up, a social activity choice. Unlike going for a massage, spa or facial where talking would be challenging due to the nature of the service, manicures and pedicures leave our mouths free to do the talking without bodily disruptions. It’s also probably that manipedis are theraputic and relaxing, and since people don’t know who you are and don’t know who you’re talking about, you would feel less conscious and it doesn’t seem to matter whether people hear your gossiping, most of them will never know who you are or see you again, haha.. that’s usually my rationale XD Well.. unless you live in a small town. I enjoyed this post! Great job, can’t wait for the next!

  10. I haven’t been to a nail salon with Bestie in ages, since she moved to another state, but we used to do it pretty often and yes, we’d talk about everything/anything. Now, I go alone, but for some reason, even though I’m normally a pretty shy person, I find it easiest to strike up a conversation with someone at a nail salon. There we are, ankle deep in bubbly blue water, reading the same wrinkly old copies of US Weekly, watching TLC on the salons sometimes fuzzy television… We’re in the same boat, so why not? I feel a similar kinship in the check out line at grocery stores… Maybe it’s a magazine thing. haha.

  11. I know that my friend/bestie and I used to get our nails done all the time together. It was a fabulous opportunity to relax and catch up. I can only imagine some of the conversations people overheard when she got engaged, then married, and I did the same. Now that neither of us really get manicures anymore, we barely spend time together. It seems like without that common bonding act, there is no reason to see each other. Sad. 😦

  12. reinventingerin

    I used to get my nails done pretty regularly and totally know what you’re talking about in regards to friend bonding. But what people don’t get, is that while they are yacking about personal things, other people in the room may know someone they are talkign about!! It’s made me be quite careful whhat I share and don’t share.

  13. anonymous

    Maybe this is why I have a hard time finding female friends. I would find getting a manicure/pedicure a waste of time, and being invited to have one would feel like an insult to my intelligence. Also, I don’t want to sit around and gossip. I would feel completely alien in an environment described above. I don’t write this to antagonize anyone, but to find out if there is anyone else out there like me. Am I the only one who wouldn’t find this a “natural habitat”?

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