(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!”
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.”
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.