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An Englishman in Paris

À la nage

28/06/2002

Here are two words which explain why Paris will never be New York : swimming pool. At my local pool - and yours too, probably - after you've changed out of your clothes, you give all your belongings to a complete stranger, who gives you a fluorescent rubber wrist band in return. Excuse me for being paranoid, but I don't give my wallet to anyone I haven't known for at least a year. And so I don't take it with me when I go to the pool.

But my pool has a fiendishly clever marketing ploy : mixed showers. Yes, in the liberatedixe arrondissement, men and women shower together. Of course, we remain partially clothed, but I can't see the prudish Brits or politically correct Americans accepting such a scenario. The other day I found myself in the unexpected position of taking a shower next to myconcierge.« Ah, bonjour Madame. Qu'est-ce que vous faites ici ? »I asked stupidly, up to my armpits in soap.

The pool itself reveals some interesting cultural diversions. French pools have a more sociable, Mediterranean air than their English counterparts - people take longer over their swims, and pause for conversations, sometimes in mid-lane. Even swimming lessons seem to consist of endless debates about technique by the side of the pool.

One thing remains the same, though. And that is that all the people who do the backstroke (dos crawlé) should be arrested and transported to an island somewhere. If any of you are reading this : stop it ! Now ! You slow us all down and we hate you ! Thanks.

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