By Mark Gauert
“What is this?” the kid asks, packing his suitcase.
“It’s a Speedo,” his mother says. “It’s a kind of swimming suit.”
“We wear swimming trunks in this country,” the kid says. “Why do we have to wear a Speedo in France?”
“Yeah,” his younger brother says. “This thing resembles … a napkin.”
“It’s got to feel …” the older kid says. They look at each other.
They make faces.
“That’s the rule,” my wife says, overseeing the packing. “And a rule is a rule.”
It’s actually an article in a public advisory from the Commission de la Sécurité des Consommateurs, the French state consumer protection agency. The commission does not want kids in swimming trunks jumping into public pools in France, their pockets stuffed with the kind of stuff kids generally stuff into their pockets.
In the interest of hygiene, the commission has ruled, all swimmers must wear a tight, form-fitting “slip.”
Like a Speedo.
“That is so wrong,” the kid says, pulling his swimming trunks out of the suitcase.
“They just want to keep the pools clean,” I say. “You don’t want to swim in stuff other kids might bring into a pool, do you?”
They look at each other. They make faces.
“Not just kids,” says my wife, who grew up in France.
“Ha, ha,” I say.
“You mean adults have to wear Speedos, too?”
“Everybody does,” she says.
“I see,” I say.
“You know,” I say, “people in this country make fun of middle-aged guys who try to wear Speedos in public …”
A lot of us even complain about guys from other countries coming here, parading around our beaches, our pools, even our finer waterfront establishments, in foreign swimwear that is clearly too small.
“We’re not going to be in this country,” she says. “We’re going to be in France. Everybody wears them.”
“Nobody wants to see that anywhere,” I say. “It’s universal.”
“Sorry,” she says.
“Is there a middle-aged-guy-who-wouldn’t-be-caught-dead-in-a-Speedo exemption?”
“Then I’m not going swimming,” I say.
“Neither are we,” the kids say.
“I don’t know,” my wife says, “It gets pretty hot in the south of France this time of year. If you want to cool off with a swim, you’re going to have to comply.”
The kid makes a face.
“I don’t want to see Dad in a Speedo,” he says.
“Me neither,” his brother says.
“Nobody does,” I reassure them. “And nobody will.”
We are in line at the public pool in Montélimar. It’s pretty hot here in the south of France, and there are a lot of people behind us waiting to cool off with a swim.
Everybody here, as far as I can tell, is wearing a Speedo. Even our kids.
“I told you it gets pretty hot here,” my wife says, smiling.
“It still feels weird,” the kid says.
“It’s not so bad,” his brother says, “if you don’t look down.”
“How many?” the cashier asks, when we get to the front of the line.
“Two,” my wife says. “My husband and I are not swimming today. We’re just going to watch the kids from the pool deck.”
That’s not possible, the cashier says, gesturing to a public advisory on the wall behind her.
In the interest of hygiene, she says, all those entering the pool area must change, shower and …
Put on a “slip.”
“I see,” I say.
“I’m not wearing a Speedo,” I say.
“C’mon, everybody’s wearing one,” my wife says. “Even the kids.”
“Well,” I say, “I don’t even have a Speedo.”
“No problem,” the cashier says, smiling. “You can borrow one of ours.”
“One of yours?”
She pulls up a cardboard box filled with what appear to be red and black napkins.
They are Speedos.
They are used.
In the interest of hygiene, I think, I need to sit down.
“I’m not wearing a Speedo,” I say. “I’m not wearing somebody else’s Speedo, either.”
There’s no problem with the slips in this box, the cashier says. They’ve all been swimming in hygienic, chlorinated pool water.
“Yes,” I say. “But on other people?”
“Yes,” she says.
For a moment, I wonder: Where could I go while my family enjoys a swim in their Speedos?
I look out at the parking lot, where the rental car is cooking on hot asphalt. I can’t wait in the car, I think, even with the windows rolled down.
I look toward Montélimar, way down the road. I could walk it, but the center of town’s a couple of miles away, and it’s pretty hot here in the south of France this time of year.
I could stand on the No Speedo Principle, pull the family out of line, put them into the hot car, blast onto the Autoroute until the rental A/C kicks in. Maybe find a little bistro down the road — a nice limonade, perhaps, or a cold bière à la pression …
But no. The kid wants to go swimming.
“C’mon, Dad,” he says.
“Yeah,” his brother says. “It’s not so bad.”
There are some things you have to do because you are in another country. There are some things you have to do because you are a dad.
Sometimes, you have to do both at once.
I reach into the box. I pull out a black Speedo. “Endurance” model.
It resembles a napkin.
In the dressing room, I don’t look down. I just stretch it open, look up and pull it on.
It feels … weird. Tight, tiny, elastic.
I try not to think about that.
I try thinking about walking instead. I’m not even sure I can, at first. I try one tight, tiny step. Then another.
Pretty soon I’m tight-and-tiny stepping out of the dressing room and into the hot sun of the south of France, where all the world is wearing a Speedo by the pool.
For a moment, I wonder: If they can, maybe I can, too.
I look at the kids. They look at me.
We all make faces.
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in 2006. There has been no change in French law regarding Speedo use.