Category Archives: France

Pardon my French

imageYou would think that speaking French would be easy given that something like 30% of English words come  from the French language.  It’s no coincidence that words like nouveau, espionage, cuisine, etiquette, encore and meringue, sound a little French and fancy.   However, the list does not end there, no it goes on and on…(google Wikipedia just to see how long…).  There are many more words, some less obvious than others, such as comfortable, ponder, air, garage, orange, and even car.    In fact, when you are in France, you will be amazed at how many words you recognise in the written form….words like pavilion, regrete, fatigue.

However, this is where the similarity ends..You may think you know French but do you really?   You might be able to sing along to the words of Kylie Minogue’s hit song perfectly, (remember, Je ne sais pas pourquoi?) or  you may find yourself using French/English words in your everyday conversation with ease…such as when asking your beau for a rendezvous!  You might even write RSVP on the bottom of every invite and actually know what it stands for.  In fact, since watching Master chef, you probably know the difference  between a terrine and a gratin…..or better still, maybe you pepper your sentences with real French words like voila!  But does this mean you can speak French?  And more importantly can you be understood?

We all know it’s a disaster  to try and say many of these French  origin words phonetically…. somehow, we just know how to say them (those familiar to us, anyway).   But can you think back to when you first tried to say any of these or other French sounding words?  Did you cringe when someone corrected you ( its not fox pas…its foe pah!).  Did you first whisper it quietly before feeling bolder and more confident to talk about your “déjà  vu moment while having  hors d’ouvers at the haute coutture shop?”

The words you already know may seem like child’s play…but what about all the rest..e.g the ENTIRE French language…what do you think then…  Do you think you’ll just be able to fake it by putting on a French accent and sounding all posh?!  Well…. close enough…pronouncing any of the words with a French flair is defintiely a good start.

So when WE  got to France, I was feeling particularly smug.  Firstly, I had a background in Italian and some Spanish so this was just another one  of those Latin languages.  I also found, that I could recognise many of the words I saw, I just couldn’t say them in a way that was understood by anyone except for me.

Somehow, an ocean exists between the way I say  a french word and the way it’s meant to be said….  When we were in South America, I cringed when I heard someone pronounce   “hola”  like they were some rodeo riding a bucking bronco…  (oooohhh laaaa). I thought, how could they get it so wrong… but then I found myself in France, wondering how my request for “creme brulee” was not understood, then mistaken for cafe au lait, until finally I had to point to the word on the menu… ahh,  ickkrrrreme brulayy!. That’s what I thought I said, but no..

I met someone who told me, the French aren’t rude, they just don’t understand what your saying.  I think there is a lot of truth in that.

I remember my Italian cousin finding it hard to differentiate between the sounds of  beach and bitch.  There is a huge difference, and you don’t want to make the mistake of getting it wrong.  So when your speaking French, do you really know what it is that your actually asking for!  Carrying flash cards or miming the words might just be safer!

The French people we met weren’t as arrogant as I originally thought or as the stereotype suggests.  When I asked ” parlay vou anglais”  the answer usually was: yes a little.   This had changed from ten years ago when as a backpacker in France, the answer back then, was almost always no.  Given that we are struggling with speaking French, I gather the French might also be finding it somewhat difficult speaking English…..a bit of vis-a-vis.

French is not the sort of language, you can learn from your French phrasebook, no it’s not that simple and no you can’t be that lazy…. even the phonetics to help you with the pronunciation are way off the mark…. no, French is a language that must be learned by audio means.  So for this visit to France I packed a beginners 1 & 2 learning french audio CD pack.

Even my eldest son couldn’t get it quite right…. Up til that point he was doing brilliantly, repeating a word he heard once and getting the pronounciation perfect immediately.   Yet we arrived in France, and he couldn’t quite seem to get bonjour right, preferring to say bonjour’d.   Let’s say, I stopped asking him to “repeat after me”….

We found google translate useful, if not hilarious at times.  We had to write several emails to book camping accomodation for ourselves and confirming a spot for our two donkeys.   One email confirmation returned to us google translated  as “yes, we have room for you and your asses”!     It was funny because it sounded so correct and yet was horribly incorrect – the French would never be so crude, well not in a first email.   You will find the French to be unusually polite – addressing someone as madame or monsieur.  This form of greeting is not just reserved for the “older” generation, but used all the time.  It helps if you greet this way also upon entering a shop or store.    

So what is the best thing you can do to help  in the foreign language speaking department?  Start young and early.   There is a reason why many German and Dutch people speak English almost better than you.  Language learning starts early and its offered more than 30 minutes per week, more like 30 minutes per day.  I would often find myself forgetting that the German person I was conversing with was speaking to me in their second or third language.

However, if you didn’t quite start at age 3, never fear.  It can be harder learning  a new language as you get older as it requires more effort.  However, it’s never too late.   Visit a tourist country and you’ll find locals with very little schooling and who are sometimes a lot older than you (in their 60s+)  conversing in 4, 5 or 6 languages.  Unfortunately, a native English speaker  often has the expectation and assumption that everyone can or should speak English, no matter where they are in the world.

There is nothing quite like the experience of being misunderstood and the frustration of miscommunication to be more sympathetic to those who you encounter in the same position whether it be while travelling or meeting a non English speaker in your own country.  There’s nothing quite like a bit of humour, empathy, understanding and some patience to help someone get their message across or at least let them know that what they need to say is important even if it is a struggle.  So even if its talking in monosyllables,  a series of unintelligible grunts, pointing fingers and comic hand gestures….,we’ve all been there at some point…even if we have to think way back to our toddler years!

 

 

Kid friendly and not so kid friendly destinations

travel..the "family way"
travel..the “family way”

Travelling solo, as a couple or as a family can give you different travel experiences and locals or other travellers may interact with you differently because of it.  Travelling with kids can impact on where and how you travel, the countries you visit and what you do once in the country.

It can also greatly affect your budget….kids under 5 years are usually free when camping, travelling by public transport and often incur no entry  fees for national parks, museums, galleries etc.  It also works well for when staying in accommodation, as you can book a double room and  get a child cot or bed for free (depending on age) or for an extra fee of about 10 or 15€.   What’s more, you can split meals between kids, or share your own plate with a young  one (this doesn’t last long..maybe til 4 yo).   So the age/s and sometimes even the gender of your child will influence yours and their travel experiences.

Travelling with younger kids meant that we were more likely to meet kids of similar ages especially during the daytime.   Even so, my 4 year old son, was usually the oldest kid whenever we went to any playgroup/ kids daytime activity  or hung out in the local playgrounds.  We found this to be the case no matter where we were- whether in South America, or Europe.  Kids from 2 onwards may be in full-time care/nursery or with nannies.

what kids really want to do on their travels
what kids really want to do on their travels

We have yet to find a country which is a kids utopia!   Somewhere kids can be themselves without unnecessary rules, restrictions and expectations to behave like mini adults.   Certain places were lots of fun for the kids – usually the outdoors and with fewer people around – bush, beach, desert.   Sometimes even the smallest thing captivated my kids… e.g. Insect spotting could take half a day!   Meeting other kids and families was pretty special for the kids and for us.  In many ways these moments have given us some of our nicest memories…

Below are some of the countries and cities we have travelled in as a family and our impressions.

wonderful parks in the capital
wonderful parks in the capital

CHILE

From the moment you step off the plane and enter the immigration zone consider yourself in family friendly land.  You are in safe hands and will be taken care of.  There are preferential queues for families in almost every facet of Chilean life: supermarkets, banks, government offices etc.  It is built into the Chileans code of conduct to be nice and accommodating.  You will always get offered a seat!  Why there are even sculptures celebrating the  mother /child feeding bond.

When your child is having a tanty, someone somewhere will come and smile and make your child laugh.  It might be a teenage girl or a young male, as either gender seems very comfortable with family life at any age and children are just part of regular life.  Be warned though, your kids will get lots of lovely attention, and have lots of sweet things  said about them.  The most  Spanish words you’ll hear  will be hermoso, muy lindo, guapo, bonito etc…..My son was so used to being given something e.g. a sweet, a chocolate santa, etc, that when a young girl at an aquarium kindly shared her fish food with him to feed the fish with, he simply put it straight into his mouth without thinking!  It was a homeless man of all people, who gave my son, a key ring dragon which he still has to this day.

However, your parenting skills or perceived lack of, will be up for scrutiny….so if you think you can get away with kids playing in dirt, shoes off, sticky fingers, running around, without a comment than think again!

Tip: if you want playgrounds all to yourself then go in the day time…many of the playgrounds are eerily empty.  Return at 6pm onwards and on the weekends and the parks and playgrounds are the most happening places.  Full of families and various activities, a real magnet.   So forget the 7pm bedtime, have a siesta instead so you and the kids can enjoy the balmy fun nights.

bush playPatagonia is the ultimate kids outdoor playground, full of rivers, lakes, bush, trails, glaciers etc.  Just awesome for eager explorers and outdoor adventurers.

 

 

LONDON

London doesn't have to be all about shopping...in fact avoid it if you can!
London doesn’t have to be all about shopping…in fact avoid it if you can!

London is a city where there is always lots to do, especially for kids.  Plenty of (mostly free) museums, playgroups, playgrounds, large grassy pretty parks, and endless tourist attractions.  It’s impossible to not have things to do while in London.  We stayed for 3 months and we always had something we could do if we wanted to.   Whether its the local library story time, playground, childrens centre or attractions further afield.  We visited almost every museum we had heard of…natural history, childhood, horniman, science, transport, tate etc..The list goes on.   Most were free and it was almost necessary to visit more than once!  We visited the natural history museum 3 times just to get past the dinosaurs and see something else.  Every time I spoke to someone, they would suggest another thing to visit  even when I thought I had seen everything there was to possibly see.

getting into the spirit of community festivals
getting into the spirit of community festivals

London has lots of festivals and community events all year round and so whether its winter with festive lights, ice skating, Guy Fawkes day fireworks and Xmas parades or summer time with outdoor theatres, music and lido swimming playgrounds or water spurting fountains, London is very kid and parent friendly.  It  is not cheap however even with free or minimal entry costs once you account for  transport, food and other necessities.

We discovered a  local giraffe family/kid friendly  restaurant  that soon  became our favourite,  with great coffee and a relaxed atmosphere. The kids got colouring pages, a coloured plastic giraffe souvenir, balloons and no one cared too much about noise.  Food was reasonable and usually good, although disappointed with their gourmet hamburger meals.

lots of museums for kids
lots of museums for kids

Highlights: national history and science museums, double decker bus rides,  Hyde park, princess diana memorial playground, regents park, countless of theater shows and plays for all ages, free lido/water play areas and meeting international families.  London is a dynamic, international and exciting city.

 

ITALY

What can I say about Italy.  This is where my kids have the most special and treasured of moments.  Visiting and hanging out with our  family of cousins and aunties, and where I feel at home.  There is no experience quite like the one of enjoying a country from the insider’s perspective.  Home cooked meals and sitting around catching up on another few years that have gone by since last visits.

P1030085I love the exposure of the language and culture for my kids, and I hope that we/they can nurture these family relationships and connections for a life time.   I am lucky that my parents are from a lovely part of Italy, the dolomite mountain region, the valley of sun!  From a kid friendliness perspective, well, my aunty thought my children were hilarious, she would stir them up and laugh at how cheeky they were….the biondi birichini she would call them (the blonde cheeky ones).

kids aren't forgotten in the mountains! lake and playgrounds
kids aren’t forgotten in the mountains! lake and playgrounds

From a personal perspective, while there is a certain expectation for kids to behave appropriately, conform, not get too messy  and show a certain level of  politeness and respect to older members of the community there is still a level of spiritedness and cheekiness almost expected from children.  Children are considered the cornerstone, the mother the backbone of any family.  When we travelled with my 6 week old son a few years back, strangers in the street offered us “complimenti/congratulations” to our new family.   There are few elderly men or women who could pass up the opportunity to feel like proud nonni’s.   Depending on whether your in a small town or big city, or with/without family connections: will determine to some extent how ” free” you really are….someone somewhere will know everything about you before you’ve even arrived and even if they don’t, they soon will!

Highlights and lowlights: too many private beaches, but you will find that these beaches are full of playground equipment and fun for the kids…it’s a user pay system e.g. a coffee may get you in or you’ll have to hire a beach chair for 10€.  Of course there are free playgrounds, fun fair areas where you choose what you want to pay for ( or let the kids just have fun without any coinage) and of course whatever happened to just fun on the beach with the waves and sand-in the public areas of course.

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beach playgrounds

The playgrounds and promenades especially on the coastal towns are full of kids and families especially in the evening or all day during weekend and holidays.  Bike riding, roller skating, scootering, skate boarding, you name it…everyone is out from the young to the old enjoying a stroll in whatever way they can.   The Genova acquario is great fun and has everything!

Getting a gelati or pizza is a must..however smoking is still way too popular…

 

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cruising the coutryside

FRANCE

I’m sure French people like kids.  Although  in 6 months of travelling through France and  Morocco (with mostly French road trip tourists), I’m not so convinced.

One of the most iconic world theme parks is based in Paris; Disneyland, however general town playgrounds in France are scarce or hard to find (you would have more luck finding a church, a pharmacy or hairdressers- there’s about 3 or 4 in every town).   If playgrounds  do exist these are usually minimal structures and sometimes not well maintained (depending on where you are).   I remember my son screaming out in delight “3 playgrounds!!” when we found an unusually large one.  There might be one swing, if your lucky, and one or two structures marked for certain age groups.   Other kids theme parks or aquatic centres do exist but these are usually big and costly, and of course you have to work out a way to get there if your on public transport.  Ask at the tourist office what there is to do for kids  and they might stare at you blankly or direct you to the nearest cake shop.

What you will find though which will be inescapable and which will capture your kids attention in every town will be the famous  carosuel.  No matter how many times your kids  have been on one, they will want a ride every time they spot one!    It will even bring out the kid in you!

To someone from one of the driest continents on earth coming to somewhere like Europe with its consistent rainfall, is pure paradise. Yet for some reason, it’s a concrete paradise (this doesn’t just go for France) and any grassy areas that do exist, well your not even allowed to step foot on them!! It’s simply for looking at, not running around on!!   Any potential grassy site is usually gravel and reserved for bocci playing – not that I have anything against bocci, but a strip of grass wouldn’t go astray.

We received more frowns than warmth and kindness towards our children  even though we behaved no differently than anywhere else we have been.  Frowns because our kids were too slow walking and in the way, or frowns because my kids showed too much emotion (excitement even, god forbid!). Containment seems to be the order of the day and we get the impression kids are to be unseen and unheard, even if your in a playground or a campground!   Travelling through France with kids is anxiety provoking and disappointing.  To say we struggled is an understatement.  We have been told off  for noisy kids in a playground, and another time yelled at by an insensitive camping neighbour.   I thought she was coming over to offer support when my youngest son woke up crying after a too short  afternoon nap.  But no, she was coming over to tell me to be quiet and think of others.  Not a good start to neighbourly relations.

Some times you might even be forgiven for thinking that the company of their furry four legged friends is preferred to that of their children.

However, not everyone is so surly.  We did experience a couple of small acts of kindness towards our children that was appreciated. But considering the amount of time we spent in country or travelling with other mainly French road travellers,  the impression left upon us was fairly negative and oppressive.  Even the same styled family restaurant as London, called Hippopatumus  did not quite make the kid friendly status.

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try something different!

Highlights: During the peak summer month of August, towns will usually host fun fairs on weekends or other events such as a medieval fete. Look out for whats on and when.   Trying to time your visit to when things are on is sometimes difficult if your on the move.   The town of St Quentin had the best set up when we were there. They had converted the town square for a weekend into a huge free fun water and sand play area for kids.

The most kid friendly cities: Marseilles.  Fantastic grassy park area, that you can actually sit on and  enjoy.  We spent several days lazing around in the sun, with our picnic bag of baguettes, snacks and the kids having a great time. Check out Palais du Pharo – overlooks Marseille port, amazing views and playground nearby too.

Nice: loved the city.  A great centre area of grassy parkland, lots of wooden play structures in playground which is sea themed and fun for the kids, a huge fountain spurting area to run through and misty spray zones.  Absolutely awesome.  A lovely city area to stroll in with practical shops and a good beach area. Only thing  is don’t even think of sitting on the real grass…go for the astro turf – that’s the go zone.

Other cool stuff: try something different, go for a donkey walk with your family.  There are lots of donkey farms in France.  We went for an 8 day self guided camp/walk- France is full of easy and interesting walking trails.  Go for one day or 3 months!

Hire or buy a boat and canal trip through France.  There are lovely forested areas alongside the canals for little ones to discover and explore.

Other things to look for: towers, castles, forts to visit and a ride on the tourist petit trains when in a city.

 

MOROCCO

Your kids will be kissed at every opportunity
Your kids will be kissed at every opportunity

What can I say about Morocco?  Well for starters your kids will get kissed a lot.  One person told us that it was good luck to kiss blonde kids, someone else said it’s because  locals love kids…I believe both!    It does however, raise some issues on personal space and levels of comfort for you and your kids.  My kids didn’t really like it so much and asked “why does everyone want to kiss them?”  Most of the time, it was pretty harmless, an older woman, a teenage girl, even a dad trying to get his 2 year old to kiss my 2 year old…it really is a must, no getting out of it for either party.  I would often encourage my kids to hi-5 instead if they wanted to and if they had enough time to. Usually they didn’t, girls just appeared from nowhere and before anyone knew it, had planted one or five smakeroos on my son’s cheeks.  There were maybe 2 times that I felt really uncomfortable and it was when my eldest son had long hair, and a couple of young guys, who obviously thought he was girl, kept pointing to their cheeks  pushing for a kiss….not cool.

It’s the only place I’ve been to,  where I don’t feel like I have to apologise for my kids behaviour whether its a broken glass in a restaurant or my kids wanting to touch everything they see in a shop.  The answer always is…it’s okay, they are kids, it’s normal.  Either they are telling me this, to appease me, so that I continue to stay in the shop/restaurant  or they really do mean it.  Whatever their intention, it worked…phew what a relief, I could really relax..  No one got offended when my son turned four and suddenly was into finger shooting everything that moved.  I talked to my son, apologised to whoever it was, but again, the answer was…it’s okay, he is a kid, a blank slate…it doesn’t mean anything.  Again, a double phew!  It could easily have been misconstrued!   I could use some of the Moroccan patience!

Locals may also interact differently with each member of the family depending on how you present in public.  My husband went out one day on his own into town and in one hour was asked 10 times whether he wanted to buy hasish. It might happen once, if that, when we are all out as a family.  If I’m out on my own or with the kids, but without husband, again, locals will interact differently with me.  The easiest or most enjoyable way to travel in Morocco is definitely as a family.

tafroute to chiggaga 14 570Moroccan highlight: camping in the desert!

 

 

 

GERMANY

My only experience of Germany is driving through at 8.30am in the morning when it was -9degrees on a cold and frosty December morning.  Yet I want to go back and this time for a proper visit.  It wasn’t the landscape that captivated me, nor the weather.   It is the people…and I didn’t meet any while I was there..!

After almost a year and a half of travel, I’m under the impression that Germany is full of open and friendly people.  This may not be the case, but judging by the travellers we have met and befriended…there’s a strong case for it.   No matter what continent we are on, we have come across German travellers and no matter if it’s a single person, a  couple or a family  we have met some really nice and lovely people.  Whether its been a one stop conversation or meeting in a campsite or travelling on similar route trails, we have had many enjoyable interactions.  We have toasted marshmallow smurfs over a campfire, cooked and shared a fish and chip dinner and kids and parents have enjoyed hanging out.  Sometimes, its the people we meet along our travels that gives us the most meaningful and best travel experiences.

When my son was asked what he thought of Morocco, he answered “I love it!” When asked why?   “because of eno and otto”.  A German family with twins that we met along the way.   Even for kids, meaningful travel is often  about the people you meet…and no better way to encourage appreciation and interest in a language than when your son says….” I want to go to German so I can speak German”, after meeting friendly German travellers.

MONACO

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playground above the aquarium
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countless of lovely gardens

What a surprise Monaco was..who would’ve thought that such a fancy place known for its fast cars, fast money and fast paced life, could be so kid friendly.  We only stayed for  3 days but we could’ve stayed more – not just for the stuff to do, but because of its “vibe”.   The city  or should I say country(!) is well planned and easy to navigate using the bus system.  It is very tourist friendly.  Then there are the endless parks and gardens- Japanese gardens, exotic gardens and just well plain green gardens, here, there and everywhere. Let’s not forget the beach….if your not into sandy beaches, this one has little pebble rocks that feels like your having a foot massage every time you walk on it!    A very pleasant place to hang out in.

Our highlight was the aquarium.  It has a good museum attached to it, as well as an outdoor playground area on the terrace – a play with a view.   It is a very touristy city, and so busy, but a very nice feel and boy, were we surprised when at 4pm we found ourselves in one of the squares to absolute fun and chaos…school kids kicking soccer balls, scooting, running around like mad and even one climbing a tree…..a really crazy and fun place.

Knowing when to stop

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Irresistible

You know your in France, when your husband starts making crepes everyday, your eldest childs favourite cheese is camembert, your calling baguettes by their real name not the inept name  of “french stick” and your other child is fussing about which croissant to have!

Yes, make no mistake about it, your in France and  your culinary taste buds are about to explode…..welcome to  a food lovers paradise!  I know it sounds snooty all this talk about gourmet cheeses, fancy pastries and overindulgence in sweet and savoury delights, however, we are in FRANCE!!   Not only  is it impossible to avoid the boulangeries with their amazing choice of good sweets but it would be unFrenchlike not to!   You can eat meringue, eclairs, profiteroles or French vanilla slices (again, not their real name!) and they are mouth wateringly good.  The other advantage is  that many of these things which you would expect to pay a fortune for back home,  are not as expensive as you would think….a wheel of Camembert  is the cheapest cheese you can buy at 1-2€ and baguettes and croissants are cheap at 80c compared to $3+ back home.  These treats need no longer be reserved just for special Sunday mornings.

However, before you do go crazy and buy one of everything, it is worth doing as the French do… The French diet consists of lots of overly fatty and sugary products… much the same as our western  diet, however  given the sorts of food you could overindulge in, the French should be up there as the nation with the highest obesity rate per  capita, but they are not.    No, France is not even ranked in the top ten countries yet NZ, Australia, Canada, and the European countries of England, Ireland, Finland and Luxembourg are.     The  U.S is at number one and even Australia held  the numero uno spot at one point.  I was relieved to see we had  dropped to 5.  But we are still number 5..  I have no issue with being a top ten country but would rather it be for things like having some of the most liveable cities in the world!

So whats the secret?  The French  have small portions and eat less of the food thats not so good for you.  No-one is going into the bakery and coming out with supersize me portions of chocolate eclairs, in fact most of the time there are more petit portions on offer than the normal sized ones.  It’s all about having those one or two delightful bites, just enough to enjoy and savour the taste and just enough to want more…but that will have to wait for tomorrow….The French must have amazing self discipline.

We camped next to a French couple who very generously offered us some of their petit sponge gateaus (cakes).  They had just shared their medium sized container of cakes amongst a large group of them, everyone took one and they were offering us the remaining eight…they weren’t saving them for later, for midnight snacks or early morning pick me ups.  They were done. And you know what the four of us scoffed them down…wow they were good…yet what is it in our thinking to want and even crave huge, gianormous portions of  food…it no longer becomes a taste sensation but a vomit sensation!!

Enjoying a plat du jour in France (menu of the day),  is a similar experience.. It’s impossible not to feel like your fine dining when you get 3 reasonable sized delicious portions of food and all for an affordable 12€.  The French just know how to make great  food all the time.  Even going for a bush walk in a National park in the south of france is a gourmet delight for the senses….we encountered lavender and rosemary bushes and even olive trees…

Another thing we noticed is the gusto with which the French enjoy their outdoour pursuits.  The French are  fanatic cyclists and walkers/hikers…that’s also bound to help them burn off any excess calories from the mornings pastry and coffee breakfast…!!

So the most important thing to remember when in France is not the “what should I eat”  so much but remembering when to stop!

Equality, liberty & fraternity… except for when it comes to dress

imagesCA0J0GHZEven if you don’t know much about French history, these three separate yet interlinked words can be associated with the  French. A bit like the three musketeers (sometimes the third gets forgotten) these words are well known. If you are in France, you will regularly see these three short and powerful words proudly adorned on the facade of many a town hall.

For some reason, the notion of equality and liberty doesn’t quite translate when it comes to the liberty of choosing your style of swimwear when visiting the  local swimming pool.

I can understand, the swimming caps (I had to purchase three of them, even for my 18 month old who has very little hair), I can understand the obligatory showering before entering the pool for hygiene reasons…. all this makes sense to me. I get it….  What I didn’t quite get, after 30 minutes of  getting my two kids and myself ready was being told that my 4 year old son who was wearing his new batman swim suit (shorts and top) was unable to enter  the pool because his shorts were too long….Imagine saying that to a 4 year old… I just stood there….really??!  We all must’ve looked so disappointed, forlorn and absolutely rooted to the ground…(there was no way I was going back through those change rooms…) that the lady went away for 10 minutes and returned to tell us that it was okay this one time…. phew….

So of course, the next time we went to the local pool (a different town this time and an aquatic fun centre – so no swimming caps required here), I made sure my husband knew the rules… wear the short shorts. We could conform too, you know. Well, it wasn’t long (this time we got into the pool and even had a splash in the water) before my husband got pulled up by the fashion police patrol, or should I say lifeguards… The only reason he got caught out was because he decided to go and have a turn on the waterslide…if only he kept low and discrete and not brought attention to himself, you know blended in with the crowd…

It was then that we discovered rule number 2, it’s not about the shorts being short (my husband was wearing his running shorts) but about the right style of shorts, the new version male  speedo swim shorts. Well it appears that they have become the uniform poster outfit of the French pools (has the French president taken to wearing them?!). So, much like a national holiday is declared, these shorts have been declared THE only swimwear that can be worn in the pool… for boys and men.

This time, we were told we could purchase a pair at the front counter…isn’t that handy… and all for some ridiculous price.   I’m beginning to wonder whether its a revenue raising venture… some company out there is making a hell of a lot of mens’ swimsuits to meet France’s dress code requirements… I have no idea what the requirements are for women, other than, at this stage, my two piece tank top which is faded and years old, has not offended or violated any French law.

So, too bad, if your an awkard teenager, a modest sort of a guy, or one who just wants to wear whatever the hell he feels like… .. sorry no liberty to chose your own swimsuit here and as far as fraternity goes…well you’ll be in it together…all wearing the same style shorts looking all very much…the same….!