2007-11-11

How To Humiliate People 100 Years After Your Death

At left, Jules Verne, favorite son of Nantes, in about 1880. He was allowed to wear pants in this photo. No one stopped him.

The village where we live now, Mougins (pronounced "Moo ZHAN"), is in the extreme southeast of France, sort of the equivalent to Miami geographically. Last summer, when we first arrived in France and before ever coming to Mougins, we spent nearly a month in a city called Nantes (pronounced "NONT"), which is sort of the equivalent of Portland geographically. It's in the Northwest of France, so is a long way from Mougins. Although keep in mind that all of France is smaller than Texas. That part of France has a long, rich history so naturally Dave insisted we spend a bunch of time there. We had a lot of interesting experiences during that month, partly because we knew absolutely no one and Dave couldn't understand a word of French at that time. I was only slightly better. The below is from an email Dave sent to his brothers about an experience we had while in Nantes that typifies some of the cultural differences between here and the US. It happened one weekday early in August. I'll let him tell it.


We've been in Nantes for a few weeks and I really like it. I can't understand the traffic patterns, I get lost every day and nothing anybody says makes any sense, but the summer weather is great and there's lots of good stuff to see within reasonable driving distance. Like this. And this. And this. But there's only so much touring around the kids can stand, and so yesterday instead of visiting castles and Roman ruins, we took the kids to the main public pool in Nantes, called the "Piscine Jules Verne". Piscine is swimming pool in French and Jules Verne was a 19th century author from Nantes who wrote 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. They make a big deal out of the guy here. Sort of a favorite son thing I guess. A lot of dudes have written fairy tales so I don't know what the big deal is. But Jules Verne is everywhere in Nantes.

The kids are so used to swimming every day in Phoenix they've really missed it. I hesitated to go a public pool because I didn't really know where it was (so we would get lost going there), it's indoors, it's expensive, and public pools kind of creep me out, but of course we eventually do what they want because they're kids and we're parents and that's what happens when they keep asking for something. Boy was I in for a treat.

We arrived at noon, when they open. No business establishment in France ever seems to be open for very long, and this is no exception. It's summer, all the kids are out of school, and there is enormous demand for this pool. They're open every day from – get this - Noon until 4:30pm. I mean, are you kidding me?

We stood in line, paid our money, and went in to the locker room. It was like a room with a bunch of secret doors that didn't lead anywhere. The entire room seemed like just a bunch of thick yellow and blue melamine from floor to ceiling. Each cramped changing room had one door on each end, and the changing rooms were everywhere, so walking into the locker room was like walking into a maze of doors and walls. I couldn't figure out where I was. I couldn’t tell where anything led. It was very confusing.

Then, when I walked into the changing room (you couldn't get to the pool, which was in some unseeable, unknowable place very far away and very mysterious) I couldn't figure out how to lock the door. Turns out the door lock was by one's FEET. Sam found it. It was this long pole-like structure the same length as the length of the changing room. It had three fat dowels on each end attached to a circular piece of plastic. You had to grab one of the dowels and turn it counter-clockwise and it would partially cover and therefore (b)lock both doors (on each end) at the same time. It was seriously ridiculous. I mean absolutely ludicrous. But it worked.

So we changed into our swim trunks. I put on my very fancy, long polka dot twister swim trunks that make the ladies crazy. Sam was wearing his long Spiderman trunks. We looked tremendous. We found Stasha and the girls in the maze and blindly followed one corridor after another until we found the entrance to the pool. At the end of the maze, when you make it out, they give you a piece of cheese. I'm just kidding.

I walk out and basically see this:Piscine Jules Verne - Click on photo to look at the men in line for the waterslide.

So I was trying to figure out where to go. There were four or five pools of different shapes, sizes and heights, and they were all connected. And when I say "height", I don't mean "depth", I mean "height". One pool was here, another one was there, connected to it, but was set five or ten feet lower. The next one was the same way. There were big portholes in the side of this one or that one so you could see various people's legs showing up here and there (not as interesting as it might sound). The pools were apparently all supposed to serve different functions (i.e. lap pool, tide pool, waterslide pool, baby pool, etc etc), but everyone was everywhere doing whatever they wanted so it was all the same. Oh, and every pool was a different temperature. Hmmmmmmmmmm, I wonder which one had the most people in it?

I started walking toward one of the pools with Sam when an official-looking man stopped me. I could tell he was saying 'You can't go in the pool', it's "Interdit" (forbidden/prohibited),' but I had no idea why. When the French say "Interdit" it sounds a lot like "On dirty" so I looked down at my trunks thinking, "What, are they dirty? Did I have a very bad accident and not realize it?"

Then the guy proceeded to explain in English, to my absolute horror, that swimming trunks are not allowed. This not a joke. You can't wear swimming trunks at the Piscine Jules Verne in Nantes. No trunks. Do you understand what I'm saying to you? Yes, that's what I'm saying.

I could tell that arguing would only make me look like the ugly American, and he wasn't going to change his mind anyway, so I just slumped my shoulders and hung my head. He explained that neither Sam nor I were allowed to get into the pool, which was going to be a big issue for Sam. But then he said, "You can't even stay in here because you're wearing trunks, and other people will see you. We can't have that. So you must leave." Sam was about to cry because the man in charge had just he couldn't swim.

I'd already paid my $87 to get into the pool area, so I was thinking ‘how am I going to get my money back?’ when the guy held up one finger and said "Attendez". I know this means "wait a second", so I continued to stand there. He said"asdpiuqerkjafd" to a minion standing next to him, who promptly left. He must have understood the man. I sure didn’t.

About thirty seconds later the minion came back, holding two of the smallest, tightest, revealingest, mostly oily-bohunk Speedos that have EVER been made. And they're someone else's. Other men's penises have been in these Speedos. There's no way to know when or how often, but oh they've been there. Touching the very spots “I” would soon be touching. If I remember correctly, shortly before I vomited then fainted he said something like, "Put these on and you can stay".

Did I really have a choice? The kids had been crying for two weeks to go to the pool and now we were standing at the water's edge. So I took Sam's hand and we went back into the maze and found another changing room. This time I remembered how to lock the door. You just kick it.

I put Sam's Speedo on him. He was not happy about taking off Spiderman but he knew it was the only way to get into the pool so didn't say much. His suit was a hot little black number that was just a bit too large for him so there was some room between where the legs ended and where his privates began. You know, sort of like the dudes that wear those threadbare, stretched out tighty whities where the legholes have become too big for the legs that get put in them? Once, on a business trip, both my 55 year-old boss and I stayed at the house of a colleague who lived in the country we were visiting. One morning I was walking to the bathroom and my boss was walking back into his own bedroom. He was wearing nothing but a pair of old, yellowing tighty whities and the legs were all stretched out. To see that on a grown man was more than I could handle. That was a bad trip for me. My boss lost his job about four months after that. I've never quite recovered. Anyway, with Sam it was sort of like that, only this Speedo was a lot smaller.

Then I put on mine and walked out. It was kind of a blue color, but not just the boring regular blue that those doped-up, greased-up, hairless champion swimmers always wear. It was a gussied-up version with a little design that had varying shades of blue with daring green and red streaks on it. And it had been worn a LOT, so the fabric on the back wads fraying and had those tiny balls of fabric that form on any old piece of clothing. It was very soft to the touch. It's times like this that one wishes for dea…sorry; I mean acutely realizes that one's legs are similar to those of a fowl, why one never became an underwear model, etc.

So I walked out to swim. Since all the other guys out there were wearing something similar (although I can honestly say that - because they knew this was coming when they left their homes for Piscine Jules Verne, they had prepared and that – therefore – mine was the absolute worst suit in the whole place) and since I'm an adult, I said to myself 'OK I'm going to pretend this is normal and will not show my pain to the world lest I draw attention to it.'

This became difficult as soon as I saw Stasha. Her uproarious laughter and pointed finger drew more attention than I was looking for. I quietly asked her to stop and just turned my back on her. Sam ran off to go down the waterslide as I slinked into the nearest more-than-waist-deep pool, where I elected to remain for virtually the entire time. I did get out at one point, to go down the enormous indoor water slide. When I was standing in line for it Abby stood behind and looked me up and down. She didn’t say anything for what seemed like a long time as she stood there dripping and shivering, holding her hand to her mouth deep in thought. Finally, this: "I don't like that bathing suit. It looks dumb," she said. Great minds think alike, I guess.

By the way, I was also dripping and shivering, which further reduced my chances of looking like an underwear model. Sam, of course, forgot all about Spiderman and was having a great time. I didn't know where he was most of the time because it was a big place. However, several times during the next 90 minutes, which incidentally seemed like maybe twenty - or forty five hundred and twenty - hours, Sam ran by and said stuff like "Hey dad this Speedo isn't bad", then later, "Hey dad I think this Speedo is cool", etc. I think he thought he looked like "Dash" from The Incredibles. I disagreed.

At 2pm we had to leave. I got out of the pool and found Sam and the girls. We all walked back into the maze. I went into a changing room with Sam. I took off my Speedo and was about to put on my clothes when Sam started whining that he couldn't take off his suit. If you know five year-olds you know that voice that says "Dad it's time to drop everything and help me right now. RIGHT NOW." So there I stood, naked and shivering, kneeling on the freezing infested tile trying to undo the knot that had cinched itself in the drawstring during the last 90 minutes. It was cinched really tight and I was really hoping to get it undone quickly because I wasn't wearing any clothes and it was cold and I was in a maze in France and I'd just had to wear a Speedo for 90 minutes. In front of my children. In public. I got the string undone and was pulling the suit off his five year-old body and he looked down at me. "Dad", he said. "Can you buy me a Speedo?"

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11 Comments:

Blogger hughes family said...

Hi Ashtons! I just found your blog and I am wiping tears streaming down my face from laughing at your swimming pool experience. I don't remember the last time I laughed so hard. I can't wait to show Jason your blog. Glad you guys are having such a great time in France. What a great time for your kids. Stasha, I'm only in Portland, but sometimes I feel the same way you described about "home." It is hard to establish "familiarity" all over again.
Say hi to all of your family for us!
Megan Hughes

12.11.07  
Blogger Courtney said...

It's too bad the French can't appreciate Dave's humor because this is the funniest thing I have read in a very long time.

12.11.07  
Anonymous Michelle Thurgood said...

At first I thought, too bad you didn't include a picture of you and Sam. And then I tried to picture this scene. Ooooh, scary! Thank-you for not including a picture of you and Sam. It will be difficult enough to erase the picture you helped create in my mind's eye. Please be less descriptive next time. This could give me nightmares!

12.11.07  
Blogger Larissa said...

Hilarious! How come it took you so long to share this story? Those speedos are quite the trip. Why was it wrong to wear trunks? I'm curious about that and which did come first, the trunks or the speedo? Anyone know???

12.11.07  
Blogger Dave said...

I wrote this to my brothers a couple of days after it happened, but just didn't think to post it until this weekend.

Turns out the reason they won't let you wear trunks is actually somewhat legitimate. I mean I think it's dumb but it at least makes sense: they view swimming trunks as more like shorts, which people often wear as clothes, and they often have pockets in which you store stuff that might end up in the pool. Plus, if you wear them as shorts they can get dirty, then you get in the pool, etc. So it's a control thing. Their assumption is that no one would wear a Speedo for any purpose other than swimming and they've gotten that one right. I haven't been swimming since.

There are a few more things like this that have happened in the last couple of months. Really odd things. Like when I picked up the hitchhiker on the freeway from Dijon to Paris. Or our first night in the Loire Valley, when I slept on a bare linoleum floor in my clothes, with a bath towel as a pillow. Or after we'd been in Mougins for three days and Stasha and I got in a big fight and she said, "That's it, I'm calling the airlines tomorrow." That was a low point. Some of this stuff is written down, some of it isn't. I'll try to post those sorts of things as soon as I can.

12.11.07  
Blogger beckylou said...

That is seriously some of the funniest stuff written. I think Bon would've died...

14.11.07  
Anonymous Karin from Sweden said...

Ha ha ha! This is so funny to read! And we definitly now the situation of this! We had a similar experience this summer when we did a homeexchange in Provence.

After a terrible car trip to the Saturday market in Apt when our youngest son got car sick and puked all over him self and some on me too. We bought some new clothes and washed our selves as much we could in some public restroom. Then went to the market in Apt for some hours keeping the kids happy with promising "after this we are going to the pool".

Then buyed our picnic lunch and headed to the public pool. Finaly! We where hungry, the kids urging for a swim (it was hot in July). 4 of us (two families together) was men and weared this kind of long legged beach swimming shorts (as you did) which is the common thing in Sweden. And we was stopped in the same way but more unfriendly before entering the pool area.

Our boys was so disapointed so they almost cried and we adults couldn't help getting mad about it and loosing our faces. We had to leave the place! And we didn't even got our entrance fee back.

Our only bad experience in France actually. But "bad things" is also holiday memories of course.

So we had to enjoy our picnic on a dusty parking lot instead but at the end we just laugh about the experience. Next time we are heading for France (the alps during New Year) we are definitly bringing some Speedos! And I will really try not to laugh when seeing my husband wearing them!

11.12.07  
Blogger mdcano said...

the funniest post i've read!!!!
i've just discoverd your blog...what an amazing gift to your kids!!!
i'm american living in UK and lived in spain 3 1/2 years----can relate to loads you + stasha experience!
good luck with everything!

28.5.08  
Blogger La Vie Échangée said...

Thanks for your comment mdcano! Hope you keep enjoying the blog and thanks for saying hi!

28.5.08  
Anonymous olivier said...

the rules of french swimming changed 15 years ago, kids were wearing long and dirty trunk in the swimming pool, and " rioting" teenage didn't want to wear speedo, so, now you have to wear speedo ( or swimming boxer ). it makes water - cleaning easier, and avoid some " bad behaviour " teenagers .
I am sorry for my poor english.

3.6.08  
Blogger TropicGirl said...

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! Very funny. Thanks for the laugh!

28.8.08  

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