Americans are OCD about germs. You’ll see hand sterilizers in dormitories, Clorox wipes in homes, and face masks in health clinics. They wash hands obsessively, shower daily, and do laundry compulsively. Yet after living abroad for decades, I cannot help but notice some idiosyncrasies in this behavior.
In Switzerland, guests remove shoes at the door and bring slippers to dinner parties. Even kids comply without question. The no shoe rule applies in some doctors’ offices. My children’s orthodontist provided blue, plastic booties for everyone in his office. Imagine sitting in a crowded waiting room wearing mini shower caps on your feet?
In Europe no one dares enter a sports club or steps on a gym floor without changing to a clean set of sneakers. In my school, kids flunked PE if they failed to leave their shoes on shelves in the corridor before entering the changing room.
Nowhere is the difference in standards more blatant than at health clubs. In France changing stalls are like magic boxes. You enter the stall from the outside fully clothed and abracadabra you step out on the other side in a swimsuit and flip-flops.
One of the biggest absurdities I saw even in the ultra health conscious, St. Paul- Minneapolis area was that people walk into the club wearing their sweats, t-shirts and tennis shoes. They pump iron, ride the bikes, run on treadmills, attend fitness class, and then dash right back out the door in the same sweaty attire to shop at Target.
Even more alarming, they step in the sauna straight from the gym in workout gear while I soak in my swimsuit, the odd man out so to speak. One young woman plopped down in the sauna fully clad in her jeans, sweater, and boots. It gets cold in Minnesota, but really.
Most Americans are modest about their bodies except for that one girl wearing Gucci workout shorts and a halter-top. She turned her backside toward the mirror and snapped a selfie of her booty’s reflection.
But for the most part, the puritan ethic is deeply ingrained. No one undresses openly in public even within the safe confines of the same sex changing rooms. If women do change clothes, they hide behind shower curtains or underneath giant towels.
Bodies of all ages and stages of decline are more exposed on French beaches than in America’s fitness club changing rooms.
As an old athlete, I grew up in the days when the communal shower stall was the status quo. I became even more liberated living in Europe where people sit on towels buck naked in mixed saunas and women go topless on the public beaches
When did the Yankees become so uptight about their bodies?
Loosen up, America. Let it all hang out. It is good for the girls to air out now and then. Nobody cares what you look like; people are too busy sneaking peaks at their iPhones.
Besides you can always wash your hands on the way out.
Thought we needed a lighter look at life this week to brighten our mood.
Now if you really want to lift the spirits try this classic family recipe (Boeuf Bourguignon) from our favorite French Chef.