Où est-ce?

Seventeen years ago I was convinced that learning to ask “où est la piscine?” and “Comment t’appelles-tu ?” was a complete waste of my time. Why, I wondered, was Mr Mutton wasting my time with lists of words which I couldn’t pronounce and would probably never use when I could be filling pencil cases with gas from the Bunsen burner and making them explode?

Well, today I was eating my own (English) words. Finally, some 70000+ days after I was forced to learn this phrase I got to ask “où est la piscine?”.  Now, I don’t want to re-ignite the why do we learn French? debate (see the comments) because this doesn’t significantly change anything, but I should at least be grateful to Mr Mutton and the UK educational system for preparing me for one small event in my future life.
Anyway, not only did I ask where the swimming pool was but I even swam in the thing! …and let me tell you this – asking where it is, is nowhere near a satisfactory level of vocabulary to prepare for the experience.

If you have 3.50 Euros, tight-fitting Speedo pants and a swimming hat, you too can swim in this pool. 

Firstly, how do you ask for one ticket to swim please? (swimming-pool, pis-cine, swim = pis?)  eh? maybe? …well, I wasn’t about to stand there shouting “moi piss”… so, I fell back on the much more useful “do you speak English?” (she didn’t) and then ‘sealed the deal’ by pointing at me and pretending to swim.
Proud of my achievement, I quickly made a nuisance of myself by getting lost and walking around the corner and directly back into her office which I thought was the changing room. She sympathetically rectified the situation and took me to the real changing rooms which were the strangest I’ve ever been to.   In fact, the whole swimming experience was one of the strangest I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot.
After changing in the very small personal cubicle, I ventured out, only to be promptly returned by the changing-room professional (great job) to borrow or buy myself some regulation tight-fitting swimming pants from the receptionist. You can imagine the sign language required to do this! …and there were school kids watching…
Then, having changed again, I made a second attack on the swimming pool entrance, but of course I still wasn’t looking ridiculous enough and the changing room guy stopped me again because I didn’t have a hat! A swimming hat! Seriously, wtf? I’m bald!  Well, thankfully, the guy (who was quite enjoying this) took pity on me and gave me a nice, bright-yellow spare and one and once I’d squeezed it over the least-hairy part of my bearded head – he let me through.

I went off to swim like some Linford Christie-Duncan Goodhew hybrid who’d escaped from a smutty 1950’s postcard… 

Anyway, I put in some good swimming (although I’ve no idea how long I swam for because there was no clock), rinsed myself down in the freezing string-operated showers and left feeling humiliated but healthy.

Now, for the benefit of humanity, here is a summary of my euro-swimming experience: The Ian Bearder guide to the pros and cons of swimming etiquette/rules in England, Slovenia, Hungary, Ukraine and Belgian.
Pros: You’re free to wear what the hell you like, you can choose if you cover your hair, warm showers are included in the price and you can be sure there will be two clocks in the swimming area. One to tell you the time and one to time your speed.
Cons: It can be expensive and it’s often over-crowded. If you go at the wrong time you’ll have to contend with an inflatable monster and you have to change and shower with everyone else. Also, you need to remember 10p for the lockers.
It’s basically like the UK except there aren’t any lockers …just a high degree of trust.
Pros: It is cheap and there’s probably a sauna near by.
Cons: The multi-stage shoe and clothing exchange system makes sense to nobody and there is a mandatory Speedo and swimming hat rule. However; if you’re lucky (and have a shaved head) they might let you go without a hat. If there is a sauna, it will probably be naked.
Pros: It is cheap and it’s quiet and you might be able to watch a film about how it was made.
Cons: You pay 1 Euro more if you’re not a local resident (surely that breaches EU law) and you must wear tight Speedos and a swimming hat even if you’re bald, it’s non-negotiable. Clocks are not provided so don’t expect to leave on time.
Pros: I never found out…
Cons: You need a health permit (yes I’m serious) to enter. This means you a) bribe a doctor and he gives you one, or b) you answer lots of questions about your sex life, pay 5 Euros and he/she gives you one.
Please feel free to add you’re country via the comments… maybe you’ll save me or anyone else reading some future embarrassment.  


PS, if you didn’t already know, I recently left Ukraine, bounced of the UK and now I’m in Brussels. I still say ‘da’, ‘horosho’ and ‘spasibo’ to everyone I talk too…
PPS, I have a new Belgian number +32477931967
PPPS, Guess who is writing nonsense about swimming pools when they should be re-working their thesis? …yeah, I know, I’ll get back to it…

Posted from: www.bearder.com




“I saw the movie, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ and was surprised because I didn’t see any tigers or dragons. And then I realized why: they’re crouching and hidden.”


  1. I feel your piscine-confusion Eddy. I had to go on a business trip to Slovakia a few years ago and part of the “entertainment” our hosts had laid on to us was a trip to the huge and massively popular Aquaworld in Poprad. Only problem was half of the pool complex was outdoors, it was freezing cold and snowing, and I hadn’t been informed by my colleagues that this was on the agenda…b*stards.

    So, the only option was hiring a pair of the tiniest, most badly designed black speedos with a big seam down the middle…not one of the most comfortable experiences of my working life.

    However, it was more than worth it to see the nights highlight, which was a “lazer show” in the main pool, where about 200 Slovaks proceeded to stand in the pool in almost military fashion, downing pints of lager while cheering to the national anthem and then, bizarrely, the theme tune to Gladiator. Those guys know how to spend a Friday night.

  2. TJB

    Interesting and amusing, but still not worth three posts o0f the same material!

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