Cultural Stubbornness

Anyone who has ever been to Paris remembers that very first day, the first moments when you realize you are indeed in Paris. In France!  I know I do.

We had just checked in to a hotel  in the Marais, stepped in to the bathroom, and while Karen danced with delight, Happy Joy, Happy Joy, because there was a bidet (an excellent device for chilling wine, I might add), I was staring suspiciously at what was The Shower.  It was a glass cubicle, much smaller than a phone booth, with a shower head attached to a hose, hanging from a hook on the inside wall. I had my doubts. Next morning, my first experience with what the French call a shower didn’t go real well.

Now, I’m not exactly slim, but I certainly am not what you would call a large person.  I’ll go with “average in size”.  And this average-sized guy learned that it is not a good idea to drop the soap in a French shower, because when I did, I bent over in that tiny space to pick it up, and my ass pushed open the shower door, dousing the bathroom floor, an event that was to become a recurring theme over the years of travel in France. What I didn’t realize at the time was that would qualify as one of the better shower experiences we would encounter over the years.

It is positively mind boggling. The French have not yet mastered the concept of The Shower. This is a country with one of the most advanced nuclear generating systems in the world, an aerospace industry among the world’s best…Airbus and the Concorde; and yet, the simple logic of The Shower has completely evaded them. Worse, it isn’t just that they haven’t mastered it.  They have actively devised  innumerable ways to actually screw up the act of taking a shower.

Charles De Gaulle is reported to have once said, “How can anyone govern a country with 300 cheeses”.  Well Charlie, you should count the number of permutations of “shower” and get back to me.  At one point…no joke…Karen suggested I start taking photographs and do a coffee table book on French showers.  I should have taken her up on it.

It seems like such a simple concept, and yet….

A frequent offender is the old style deep bathtub, where the rim of the tub comes up to the middle of your thigh; not easy to climb in and out of under any circumstances, but downright perilous when wet. This unit comes with a hose attached to the bathtub faucet and about six feet of metal hose with a shower head attached. There is no way to hang the shower head. You are expected to hold it the entire time you are “showering”. Oh yes…there is never a shower curtain. NEVER.

The French don’t believe in shower curtains. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea. What I do know is that shower curtains are not a default item in the French bathroom. Our French family seemed genuinely amused by the idea when we broached the subject while standing in two inches of water.

But here’s the deal. Assuming you managed to climb safely into the tub and get the water running at a  comfortable temperature, you have to  manage to soap yourself with one hand while holding the shower head in the other. If you put it down in the tub to do a two-handed wash and leave the water running, the shower head flails around in the tub, spraying the room.

You can try getting down on your knees and holding the shower head aloft, trying mightily to wash yourself, but as when you  are standing, one false move and that shower head turns roomward and inundates the floor. God forbid you want to give your nether regions a good rinse-the ceiling will come into play. It happens time after time after time, such that taking a shower becomes more a matter of not hosing down the room than getting yourself washed.   

One of us exits the bathroom and the other will ask, “How’d it go?” code for, how much water did you leave on the floor? And it eventually becomes competitive, “Ha! I left less water on the floor than you!”

That’s one variation on the theme and easily, not the worst.  That honor goes to a small hotel we stayed at a couple of years ago. The bathroom was extremely spacious by French standards. As you entered, the sink was closest to the door, and next to the toilet. But there was something odd, because the room was very large and there was nothing else there. Where is the shower? was the first impression.

On closer examination we discovered, at the far corner of the room, a slight depression in the floor, and a drain. And there, hanging on a hook was a shower head attached to a hose coming out of the wall. No sides, no curtain, nothing but a drain in the floor of an otherwise wide open room.

It has to be nothing more than cultural stubbornness. “That’s the way it was (with a silent “in the middle ages” at the end of the sentence) and it’s French, and that’s the way it should be.” Pure cultural stubbornness.  It’s a French thing, you wouldn’t understand.

Now of course, wherever we go, wherever we stay, the first thing we do when we enter the room is check out the bathroom. The conversation is always the same.

“Sooooo, what’s it like?”  

And even when you think you’ve hit the proverbial brass ring and you have finally found a rock solid shower, you can be victimized. We were staying at a B&B owned by friends near Verdun. The shower was a glass stall, but comfortably large, with a mounted shower head, a handy shelf for soap and shampoo, copious hot water and satisfyingly strong water pressure that left exit wounds. Perfect. Until we spotted a large round hole in the glass door, about waist high, that was meant to serve as a way to grab the door and open it. The hole was placed exactly where the shower head spray hit the door.

And who puts a hole in their shower door anyway?

When I confront Anthony about these things; when I itemize the ridiculousness of the French shower concept in detail, he nods in agreement and says “Yes, I know” with a shrug that says it puzzles him as much as it puzzles me. Then I go upstairs to his master bath, and guess what?

It’s a full-tilt boogie American shower.

4 thoughts on “Cultural Stubbornness

  1. How funny about “douche Francaise.” We are enjoying your posts. Joyeux Noel.

    Byron W. Battles Sent from my mobile device, so please excuse any typos.


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