The Swimming Pool

The other day, I turned around in the shower – and there was Gary Huie! Let me explain.   One of the glories of Paris is its system of municipal swimming pools. I happen to live within walking distance of one, the Piscine Hébert. It’s clean, well maintained, and I’ve been swimming there once or twice a week for several years. A few months ago, some French bureaucrat (“fonctionaire”) decided to make the showers in our pool “mixte” i.e. men and women using the same showers! Furthermore, the showers in our pool are completely open – basically a bunch of showerheads stuck in the ceiling of a big room with drains. No shower curtains, no doors. When I asked why, the lifeguard mumbled something about the situation in the schools forbidding girls to wear a veil. Like this somehow logically explained why the showers are now mixed men and women. Oh well, “C’est la vie.”   I know Gary Huie from several expat American groups in Paris, and he lives in a neighborhood near mine. I must admit, though, it was just a wee bit of a shock to turn around and see him standing next to me in the shower! Bien sûr I have mastered the technique of washing, soaping and rinsing without removing my bathing suit. This requires  a great deal of skill and is, or course, much harder for a woman to pull off than a man.   Last spring, the same French bureaucrat (“fonctionaire”) decided to make swimming more “fun” during the summer by creating summer hours for selected pools so they could stay open later in the evening. However, this also meant opening later, at 11 am instead of 8 am. Wouldn’t you know that the Piscine Hébert’s summer hours turned out to begin at 11 am weekdays and 9 am Sundays, much too late for an earlybird swimmer like me. It also meant it would be impossible to avoid scads of children paddling crossways in front of the lap swimmers – like me. So, using my well-developed French survival skills, I decided to go to my backup pool, Piscine des Amiraux, 2 metro stops away. It had earlybird hours all summer, and I actually like the pool better than Hébert. (Don’t ask me about the showers.)   It was just before the end of summer, and I still had one more time at Des Amireaux. I arrived there Sunday morning for my swim, only to be greeted by that ubiquitous sign that pops up with regularity in France: “Greve” (strike). The lifeguards were on strike. Pool closed. Go away. Come again some other day. At this point, I don’t get mad anymore. I rely on my French “have a backup plan and be Zen” attitude towards life. Hey – you never know what’s going to happen. Go with the flow.   “Hmmm. They didn’t say if the greve was city wide or wildcat, so I’m just going to check out Hébert and see if they’re on strike too.” Usually it’s everyone, but since in France you never know, – it always pays to check things out. I took the Metro back to my home stop and dropped by my good old neighborhood pool. It was obviously not open yet, but on the other hand, no “greve” signs either. Not having my watch on, I decided to walk home (a three-minute walk) and then called the Piscine Hébert.   “Are you open, or are you on strike?”   What strike? We’re open normal hours from 9 to 5:30.”   OK! Let’s swim! At the end of my laps, I couldn’t resist asking one of the lifeguards at Hébert if he knew anything about the strike at Amiraux. Nada. “Well, you know we want to be more involved with the schools planning swim classes for the kids. Maybe Amiraux was on strike just for one hour.”   Uh huh. Right.   Needless to say, after my summer adventures, things returned to normal in September, and I am now happily swimming laps at the Piscine Hébert (until the next weird thing that happens). Jeanne Feldman, author of Best Buys and Bargains in Paris , now leads private “Best Buy” shopping tours. She has lived in France since 1991 and specializes in intercultural communication between the U.S. and France. Jeanne’s website is:
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