One of the biggest cultural differences between the French and Americans is the acceptance of public nudity.
I don’t think I need to tell you which side I’m on: I’m a big proponent of it.
As long is I get to keep my clothes on in public.
But for others? Allez-y, mes amis!
In spite of their alleged laissez-faire, free-wheelin’ attitudes, San Franciscans are not quite the wild-and-crazy bunch you might think. Like…yes, you have the right to be nude, but I have the right not to see it. So as long as your right doesn’t infringe on my right, then you have the right to do it. Of course if you want the right to do it, we can have a public referendum on it or introduce an initiative so the supervisors can debate and vote on it. The it becomes a question of: do we have the right to be nude and is that right greater than your right but do they have the right to tell me what to do either? And shouldn’t my right to express myself be greater than your right not to have to look at me? Then it goes on to, well…what about all those naked dogs running around town? Do they have the right to be…etc…etc…
Anyhow, on my trip back last month, I went to a yoga class.
In the communal changing area, I innocently slipped off my trousers and slid on my shorts. It wasn’t a big deal and took me perhaps all of three quick seconds. I was wearing my euro-skivvies, which are about as modest as a Speedo, and you can’t really see anything (because of the light, not for other reasons…) unless you’re really, really trying to get a look. It was a simple, economical ‘off-on’ motion and if it excited anyone, I’d be very surprised. (Although I’m sure there are pictures floating around on the internet somewhere. Let me know if you find any.)
“Excuse me!” this woman huffs nearby. “You know, there’s a changing area behind that curtain!”
I look around, and yes, there is an lonely, tiny curtained-off section in the corner. But yikes, I lived in San Francisco for almost twenty years and I’ve seen far, far greater displays of flesh on the streets (and on the streetcars) that I had shown in those few not-very-revealing moments. It wasn’t like I was trying to put on a public show or anything and at my age, I can’t believe anyone’s actually looking either. I’m thrilled if they are—believe me.
But I was simply changing and it seemed fine, in a PG-13 kind of way. After all, we’re all adults and there was nothing you can’t see in a Beyoncé video on MTV (and if I have to hear her once more going on about how she’s so ‘conflicted’ having this sexy imagine with her religious beliefs…I mean, it’s not like she’s being forced to wear those ugly outfits with her girl-things spilling out, is she?)
But let’s contrast my San Francisco experience to that at my yoga class back in Paris.
Our communal changing room is about the size of a Hummer and we’re packed in there tight, commes les anchois. I mean, when you pull up your trousers, your elbows are bound to bump someone where you don’t intend to bump ‘em. But what’s even more shocking, if you’re so inclined to be shocked, is that the women take everything off. All off. Everything. And yes, I mean, yes, everything.
I’ve seen where babies come from and I’ve seen where they nurse ‘em afterwards too. You may not be that good at this (unless you party at the Playboy mansion) but if you’re carrying on a conversation with someone and she casually slips off her top and you’re facing a bare-breasted barrage, where the heck are you supposed to look?
One of my absolute favorite restaurants in Paris is a dive, a Portuguese chicken joint: the Churrasquiera Galo (69 rue de Dunkerque, in the 9th.) The extremely voluptuous waitress there always wears rather daringly low-cut tops. She’s quite top-heavy… like, um, big-time…and les jumeaux practically tumble out of her blouse and come smothering onto your face when you’re trying to order. Of course, I go there for the juicy, delicious spit-roasted chicken, but it’s nice of her to toss in a bit of a floor show too. There’s often lots of tables of Portuguese men enjoying dinner together and sometimes a table of drag queens as well, who are probably getting some good tips from an honest-to-goodness role model.
Anyhow, when she’s standing at the table taking your order and you’re sitting down, you’re at eye-level, ground-zero with les sens formidables and it’s like trying to give your order to all Three Stooges at once. Where or who do I look at? Curly, Larry or Moe? Oh la vâche!
There’s lots of breasts to be seen in Paris and you’re never far from them. Many of the newspaper kiosks, les presses, feature magazines with scantily-clan women busting out of their tops (who must go through so many buttons!), super-vixen style. Often they have Russian names and are contorted into bizarre poses, which perhaps they need to do because of their étonnant endowments. There’s an organization in France again the sexist ads, which doesn’t seem to be making many inroads, though. I guess the French are more lackadaisical when it comes to covering up.
Now that it’s summer here in Paris and the weather’s heating up, I suspect there’s going to be even more skin shown around here. Due to the heat, most of my Parisian neighbors, young and old, aren’t fond of wearing much clothing when padding around the house. And frankly, when it’s this hot, it’s more of a necessity than anything else.
(But thankfully, le voyeur with the camera and binoculars in the building facing mine appears to have moved…and I’m hoping there’s no shots of me in my skivvies, or less, floating around the internet—although he didn’t seem particularly interested in me for some reason. And Lord knows I tried. Maybe that woman in San Francisco was right and I oughta keep my clothes on…)
I guess next time I go back to the former let-it-all-hang-out capital of the world, San Francisco, I’ll be sure to dress more modestly and only change in the closed-off, designated areas provided. But here in my sweltering little rooftop apartment, by necessity, I’m going to be letting a little more of it all hang out, darn the detractors; no one’s going to tell me otherwise and there’s going to be a bit more skin on display around here.
Unfortunately, most of it’s going to be mine.
Until I find out if that chicken place delivers.