Welcome to France, but avoid the coq au vin

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There are certain moments in life when one is faced with making crucial decisions.All one can do in these situations is to trust one's instincts, stand firm and draw a line in the sand.

I was faced with just such an event last week. My kids insisted that we visit the public pool in my local Ardèche village, Lablachère. They had heard that the place had a water-slide. Upon arrival we couldn't help noticing aggressive signs that forbade swimmers from wearing swim shorts. There was an expensive dispensing machine that sold skin-tight "budgie smugglers" to anybody who had arrived in what I would describe as normal swimming attire. Much to my son's chagrin, we bought him a pair of "moules boules" (as the French call them) and entered the pleasure dome. As I was not swimming, I changed into my swimming shorts and went to sit on a bench by the slide so as to supervise the kids. This is when the trouble started.

After about five minutes, a very bumptious woman approached me and introduced herself as the lifeguard. She told me that my shorts were not allowed anywhere in the establishment and that I would have to leave or go and buy some crotch-huggers. I reassured her that I was not swimming, I was just supervising my kids and so there was no problem. She disagreed and told me that I was a hygiene risk. I laughed, assuming that she was joking but this was clearly no laughing matter for this officious harridan. She demanded I leave. I refused point blank.

We were eyeball to eyeball in a standoff that clearly neither of us was going to back down from. She asked me why I refused to wear "proper attire". I told her that where I come from you could be arrested for wearing the pool's approved swimwear near children.

I then noticed that she was wearing shorts and asked her why it was hygienic for her but not for me. She replied that it was so that people could recognise her as the lifeguard. I suggested that there must be a better way of spotting the lifeguard than telling your kids, "Look for the unhygienic, angry lady." At this, she went mental and stormed off to get her boss. I resumed watching my kids, as nobody was bothering to supervise the slides.

Five minutes later, the woman reappeared with said boss who offered me a spare pair of Speedos to put on "if money is the problem". I insisted that money was not the problem. This, I told her, was a fundamental clash of cultures re the public display or non-display of testicles. I also added that offering me used Speedos was fairly unhygienic in itself.

The lifeguard exploded again and threatened to call the gendarmerie. I encouraged her to do just that. France is something of a police state but even the gendarmes would surely balk at arresting a man for sitting on a bench in shorts? By now, a crowd was enjoying our entente non-cordiale.

The situation was eventually resolved by the slides closing, like the rest of France, for lunch. We departed of our own volition, with both my testicles and national honour defended.