Posted in Family, Travel

Just When We Thought It Was Safe To Go Back Into La Piscine (Swimming Pool)…

French style swimming costume for men
Un slip de bain, 1925 style – not modelled by my husband (photo: public domain)

(A post about our Easter 2013 trip by camper van to Luxembourg)

Two summers ago, when touring France in our camper van, my husband discovered for himself (because he wouldn’t listen to my advice) that, for some reason we couldn’t fathom, swimming trunks are not permitted in French swimming pools. “Les shorts sont interdit“. Instead, for men, a slip de bain – the tight-fitting, lycra style of swimwear – is compulsory. (The full story of that episode is in my earlier blog post, Many a Slip Between Piscine and Dip.)

This year, he felt it would be safe to return to la piscine without fear of such ritual humiliation. Naturally, he’d forgotten to pack his French slip de bain, so in the pleasing Belgian town of Mons we hit C&A to acquire a new swimming costume for him. Thus armed, we advance on the municipal swimming pool of a small town we’re passing en route to Luxembourg. Swimming is not just a sport on our camper van trips – it’s a welcome supplement to the limited washing facilities available in our small motorhome.

Taking The Plunge, Belgian Style

By chance, we arrive a few minutes before the pool is due to open for its only public swimming session of the day. We approach the receptionist and ask confidently for our tickets.

“Deux adultes et un enfant, s’il vous plait.”

The woman behind the desk looks distrustful.

Vous avez un slip de bain?” she asks my husband warily. “Pas de shorts! Pas de shorts!

She wags her finger in admonition. She’s clearly encountered British customers before.

My husband and I exchange knowing looks. Really, how could she doubt us?

“Encore vingt minutes!” 

She points at the clock, speaking loudly to make sure we understand. It’s not just we British who do this with foreigners.

“Mais oui, madame! Ca va!”

British Olympic champion runner Mo Farah executes the Mobot
The Mobot (photo: Daily Telegraph)

Clearly still not satisfied, she asks another question. This time we do not understand. She responds to our blank looks with a mime. She raises both arms upwards and outwards, as if showing off her upper arm muscles, like a bodybuilder. We are perplexed. Is the inviting us to while away the time till the pool opens by joining a weightlifting class? We shake our heads blankly. She repeats the action, raising her arms higher till her hands nearly meet above her head. Is this meant to be a tribute to the 2012 London Olympics, via the renowned Mobot pose of champion runner Mo Farah?

Suddenly her words crystallise into sense for me.

“Avez vous des bonnets? Les bonnets sont obligatoire.”

Our new French swimming caps
“Les bonnets sont obligatoire, Madame”

Bonnets are compulsory, it seems. Bonnets? Really? Is she having a laugh? She points to the vending machine behind us. Bonnet, I realise, is French for swimming cap. We can get them from the vending machine for 3.50 Euros apiece – more than it’s just cost us to buy our swimming tickets. Foiled again!

We while away the rest of the 20 minutes before the pool opens by deciphering the instructions on the front of the machine, sorting out our small change and acquiring trois bonnets.

Like So Many Smurfs

“Why do we have to wear bonnets, Mummy?” my daughter quizzes me as I wrestle her long, thick plaits into the embrace of blue polyester.

“Probably to stop hair clogging the pool filter,” I improvise.

Entering the pool, we find an unnerving array of polyester-headed people already in the water, their bonnets all in discreet, dark colours, except an eye-catching scarlet and white striped  one of a man who, I am sure, is entirely bald. He ploughs his way up and down the pool, beaming, clearly enjoying this opportunity to feel he numbers among the hirsute.

There is something disconcerting about so many swimming-capped people in one place. It is depersonalising. It takes us a while to spot my husband who is already in the water. The only bare  heads in the hall are those of the lifeguard and a male aquaerobics instructor who is prancing up and down on the poolside leading eight semi-submerged, serious, polyester-hatted ladies through their exercise routine. If you saw his movements out of context, you’d swear he was just pretending to dance like a girl.

Once our swim is over, it comes as a tremendous relief to discard my blue bonnet and wash my hair in the poolside shower. I feel like I’m shampooing my personality back in. I haven’t worn a swimming cap since primary school and I hate it with a passion. But at least I don’t have to wear a slip de bain.

  • If you enjoyed this post, you might like the full story of our initial slip de bain incident here: Many a Slip Between Piscine and Dip(It’s a good thing my husband doesn’t read my blog.)
  • In case you missed it, the post about the first stop on our 2013 Luxembourg tour is here: A Holiday from Books.

Author:

Optimistic author, blogger, journalist, book reviewer and public speaker whose life revolves around books. Her first love is writing fiction, including the new Sophie Sayers Village Mystery novels (out 2017), short stories and essays inspired by her life in an English village. She also writes how-to books for authors and books about living with Type 1 diabetes. She is Author Advice Centre Editor and and UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) Advice Centre blog, an ambassador for the children's reading charity Readathon, and an official speaker for the diabetes research charity JDRF.

7 thoughts on “Just When We Thought It Was Safe To Go Back Into La Piscine (Swimming Pool)…

  1. That’s hilarious! I had no idea of the swimming pool rules over on the continent. The cap part I can sort of understand (although I’d hate wearing one, too), but no shorts? Why is that, I wonder.

    Hope you had a great holiday!

    1. The receptionists at the various swimming pools can’t tell us the reason either – but maybe one day perhaps we will solve the difference! All part of the joy of travel, eh?!

  2. Oh, Debbie, this brought back memories of a family holiday 20 years ago in Belgium when my kids were small, except “les bonnets” were an off-white colour – trying to keep an eye on 3 little ones under 8 was a nightmare! Being water-babies seemed to make it worse as they were all over the place, ducking, jumping, diving – what was supposed to be an enjoyable family afternoon rapidly became pool paranoia. Hahaha!
    The image of ‘hundreds’ of little white ‘heads’ thrashing about reminded me of a biology class we once attended, if you get my drift. Thanks for the memory! X

Join the conversation - leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s