The Curious Event in the Alps

By Abi King | France

Sep 11

Every country seems to have a slightly different hygiene fetish. In Japan, it’s changing shoes three times to cross one metre of floor space. In America, wrinkled plastic mechanically revolves around toilet seats.

France, meanwhile, forces men to pay to wear a stranger’s moist speedos. All in the name of hygiene.

Swimming Customs in France

It happened in the postcard-perfect village of Luchon, high in the Pyrenees. Surrounded by snowy mountains, purple-velvet flowers and air so fresh it abraded our lungs, we’d spent a virtuous day climbing mountain paths and appreciating the view.

The traditional reward for such self-inflicted exhaustion is bathing in the Luchon Spa, whose thermal waters promise to ease away muscle tension with their sulphuric properties.

Sadly, it took until we entered the rancid, dripping caves for me to remember from school chemistry that sulphur smells of decaying eggs. Never mind. What the spa lacked in traditional relaxation techniques, it made up for in absurd comedy.

France may not be strict about parking or cooking raw meat, but it is consumed with monitoring public swimming areas. Everyone must wear a bathing cap, a rule so vigorously enforced that attendants even chase and chastise bald men for daring to walk across the airy atrium scalp au naturel.

France, meanwhile, forces men to pay to wear a stranger’s moist speedos. All in the name of hygiene.

Next, swimwear. France has taken a stand against the boardshort, tearing off the cloak of modesty and demanding that men show everything they’ve got.

And it’s not a pretty sight.

In the name of hygiene, the boardshort ban applies to all French public swimming pools. In Luchon, where you’ve already paid for your ticket before you find this out, you must hire a pair of speedos – individually sized by a watchful attendant and still damp from the previous customer.

It’s the kind of thing you only do once. After that, men hotfoot it to the supermarkets to buy tiny lycra hotpants. It’s amazing how quickly your perception of social embarrassment adjusts.

It’s the kind of thing you only do once.

Perhaps that’s what people mean when they talk about integration…

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