Can’t…No…Won’t Touch This

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What are the absolute last words you want to hear when invited to someone’s home for a meal?

Well, how about…

“We had some fish that was about to go bad, so we’re having it for dinner.”

Welcome to my world. A world you thought was all baguettes and chocolate.

Well it now includes dubious fish too.

The rules for hygiene are a little different here than in America. I was pretty shocked to see on my trip to the US in June, little bottles of hand-sanitizer dangling from people’s belts and fanny packs, as well as available in supermarkets with towelettes to wipe down the handles on shopping carts. But I’m equally shocked that people think it’s okay to leave stock-based preparations on the counter for a day or so, then consume then. (They use stock in science labs to grow bacteria since it’s such an inviting medium. Just so you know.)

Although some think we might need those little bottles of sanitizer around here pretty soon for Vélib’ hands, after riding around town for a few weeks, I’m almost inclined to agree with her after riding around for the past few weeks.

Velib' Hand

Although I’ve been certified in food sanitation, sometimes I just need to suspend logic around here and just go with the flow. The fish, though, I pushed aside. I’m thrilled to be accepted by the locals, but let’s not take this “I’m so French” thing too far…


And in case you think I only question French logic and think they’ve got it all sewn up, I should add that I worked in a restaurant in the states where if ever I tossed out a slimy piece of fruit covered in fuzzy-green mold, one woman in particular would dive in the garbage can, fish it out, and chew all around the moldy parts, then chastise me for tossing out “perfectly-edible fruit.” Yuck.

Since I was spending a fair amount of time in the French countryside this summer, we’d often go visit the local farm store that sells their own dairy products; mostly yogurt and fresh raw cream, as well as meat. My French hosts were horrified, I mean, absolutely taken-aback that they stored the raw and cured meats in the same refrigerated case as the yogurt and cheese. (These are the people offering the dernier jour fish for lunch, fyi.)

For some reason that’s a Very Big No-No here and when I asked why, at first they said it was bad for microbial transmission. When I mentioned that it was highly unlikely that microbes were going to walk a few feet across the refrigerator shelf, which I demonstrated by marching my two fingers across the dining table, they looked perplexed but I finally got them to grudgingly agree it was indeed rather unlikely.

But then they came back with, “Well, you don’t want someone handling meat after handling dairy, do you?”

While that’s true, I don’t know how that’s any worse than at the charcuteries, which sells pork products as well as dry sausages and cooked slices of ham.

“Well, are you concerned at the charcuterie where they handle raw pork, then handle ham and pâté, and in between serving them, they just wipe their hands on a towel? Are you worried about eating the pâté when it’s covered with the same microbes as raw pork?”

Which everyone just kinda shrugged off.

I mean, that seems far more hazardous and likely to transmit germs than just sharing the same refrigerated space. But that’s just me.

And in a country where people, and me, have zero qualms about scarfing up steak tartare; raw beef mounded with a raw egg yolk, it’s odd they find it pas hygiénique to keep meat and cheese in the same vicinity. I wonder how they make those ham-and-cheese baguette sandwiches in all the bakeries? Scary, when you think about it. In fact, I’m laying off those frightening jambon gruyère sandwiches from now on.

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Another suspension of logic is needed if you’ve ever taken a shower in Europe.

About 1 second after you’ve spun the shower knob you realize that all that good European design that you see in glossy magazines, whether it be a racy Italian sports car or a gorgeous piece of French bakeware, hasn’t made it to the bathrooms.

And what’s up with les serpillières?

Countryside

What is a serpillière you ask?

If you’ve walked the streets of Paris, you’ve probably seen them lying in the road in a soggy wad or rolled up in a bâton to direct water. I know, I know. It seems odd and archaic that a country with the most magnificent high-speed train system on the planet, who developed supersonic air transport, pioneered cyber-sharing of information, and are the world leaders in medical research and practice, still use filthy, foul rags to control water.

And I refuse to touch one.

But the French seem to love those grey, water-soaked rags, and they drag and trail them around from room-to-room, as well as on the street, to contain errant water. Although it’s been quite a few years, a couple of hundred I think, where Paris was a muddy marsh, it’s not at all rare today to see one wadded up in someone’s kitchen or bathroom like a murky security blanket.

Although I’ve come to love ‘the hose’ that Europeans favor for taking a shower, I can’t fathom why many hotels in Europe don’t provide shower curtains? All it takes is a split-second of reaching for the soap to misdirect the spray, then you’ve soaked the toilet paper, your toiletries, and your dry, neatly-folded jammies. And since they rarely provide a holder for ‘the hose’, good luck in trying to put it down somewhere while soaping up.

Perhaps you’re supposed to turn it off while soaping up, then back on again to rinse, but in my apartment it takes five minutes for the hot water to reach the nozzle from the time I flip it on, so I ain’t standing there freezing my butt off while waiting for hot water to reappear.

I just can’t seem to master the switching of hands back-and-forth with the hose spraying water everywhere while trying to soap myself up. And if you foolishly lay it down in the bathtub, it invariably flips over and becomes a fountain and starts shooting water everywhere. Then you need to mop it up. If you’re at someone’s home, there’s bound be a nearby serpillière for that. But coming clean out of the shower, is there anything that you want to touch less than a water-soaked funky rag that’s been sitting on the floor that Lord-only-knows-who has stepped on too?

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For example, take a look at the design of the bathroom and shower.

This bathroom is not a product of the Middle Ages.
Nor was it created even 10 years ago.

This was ‘remodeled’ in 2006— just last year. Now, if you were going to redo your bathroom, no matter how tight your budget, wouldn’t you at least build something to contain the water rather than having to drag around that skanky rag on the floor all the time? Why no shower curtain?

And what’s with the flat floor with the drain in the center? Don’t people realize that water flows pretty well towards the drain if you create just the slightest slope towards it?

I suppose this reinforces their fidélité to la serpillière.

And when my friends ask how we sop up water in America, I say “With a mop. Which has a handle to wring-out the dirty water, instead of using your hands.

In a country like France where it’s interdit to wear anything but the skimpiest, hides-absolutely-nothing Speedo swimsuit in public pools, “Pour l’hygene, monsieur!”… if someone could explain why a slingshot-style Speedo swimsuit is so much more hygienic than a square-cut Speedo swimsuit, with 2 extra centimeters of fabric, I’m all ears. While I’m happy (more than happy…in fact…) to watch others parade around in scanty swimwear, I don’t feel I’m really any more sanitary than I would wearing something with slightly more coverage.

But those serpillières. They’re happy to drag them around on the floor, where people have stepped. And if you’ve seen a poopy Paris sidewalk, you perhaps understand my reluctance about touching anything that’s been on the ground.

So next time you’re in France, if you really want to pick up something that’s very French as a souvenir, skip the Ladurér macarons, the snow globes of the Eiffel Tower, or the Mona Lisa t-shirts on the rue Rivoli, and bring home une serpillière.

If you can touch that.


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49 comments

  • Wow, nail on the head-hitting time: I will never, ever understand the theory behind the design of the French shower. I once lived in an apartment where the shower head was afixed to a wall that was perpendicular to the length of the tub and there was, of course, no shower curtain or door. After every shower I had to mop up the soaked floor. But here’s the kicker: the couple I lived with once asked me why the towels were always so wet after I had showered. Boy, was I stumped. I almost asked Monsieur for a demo of how he could possibly keep all the water in the tub.

  • Make that parallel to the length of the tub. And I know that ‘affixed’ has two ‘f’s. Hoist on my own petard.

  • I love this post. In my area of the states people tend to be very baffled by the French so I often find myself explaining French paradoxes and cultural nuances but the bathrooms…? If anyone ever asks me about the bathrooms I will not know what to say except C’est la France :)

  • What I meant to type up there was C’est comme ça, accompanied by a shrug. I’m rather tired right now…

  • Surprised you didn’t show a pic of one of those hole in the floor toilets.

    My understanding is that they think baggy trunks can be used as shorts to play le football in and get all dusty. The dust could get in the pool. But it’s okay to have completely naked infants in the pool. Also the French (and at least the English) don’t refrigerate raw eggs in their food stores. Doesn’t that bother you, too?

  • Katie K:
    Actually those hole-in-the-floor toilets are supposed to be more sanitary than sit-down models (they even use them in Japan in public restrooms on the trains!)

    But I gave up on trying to explain that refrigerating eggs increases their shelf-life radically, by 400%, but no one seems to be that interested. I think it’s a holdover from when refrigeration was relatively rare. (On the other hand, all those Americans who refrigerate their cheese! Mon dieu!)

    I try to get eggs from reliable sources where I know they’re very fresh. There’s nothing worse than cracking an egg and having the innards flow out like jellied water.

    Well, I take that back. There is one thing worse—being served old fish.

  • Great post!
    But you forgot to mention the French obssesion with eau de javel. When I worked in Lyon we not only soaked the rags in it every night, we poured a whole container of the concentrated stuff down the drain at the end of the day. That whole country smells like javel!

  • Those French showers drove me crazy when I vacationed there! Everything in the bathroom was wet when I was done–the toilet, the sink, the floor, everything. And, like you mentioned, since there was no incline for the shower drain I was up to my ankles standing in a pool of murky, dirty, soapy water after about a minute in the shower.

  • Too Funny–but I must tell you my husband is Brazilian when we lived in Brazil our first apartment had the same style shower as in your pic. The toilet paper totaled every shower and forget it if you need to go when someone is taking a shower! After the shower what did we use to “dry” the floor?
    Bien sur the brazilian serpilliere “o pano do chao”!
    Love your blog

  • This post made my laugh until I cried!!! Too true, too true. At any rate, you will be amused to know that a Belgian friend of mine did his PhD at Cornell…and when she came to visit him she insisted on bringing her serpillere.

  • This is so funny…you have mentioned almost all of the things that I find so baffling about the French when it comes to hygiene. I am not one of those Americans that would own Purell on a keychain or anything like that, but when it comes to the kitchen and the bathroom there are just certain things that I can’t handle. I have learned to not question the non-refrigeration of eggs, the weird showers (I think you are supposed to turn it off in between lathering but who really knows) and countless other oddities, BUT I will never never never own a serpillière!!

  • OMG… you are the best.

    Thank you ever so much for your humor and gift of phenomenal food & recipes.

    I have tears in my eyes from this post and memories.

    Oh! Thank you!

  • David,

    This is your best post….ever!!! and the funniest.

    Thank you, to all that wrote those great comments!

  • serpilliere must be French for security blanket…they don’t want to give them up no matter how dirty and ratty they get! Funny!

  • Oh my, I can’t stand used rags. I keep a pail by the washing machine for my rags. Every day the rag gets dumped there until it’s full and then hot water, soap and bleach.

    Have you thought about going to Home Depot on your next visit back to the states to pick up a hose clip? They run about $5 and just pressure mounted to the wall. At least you will have both hands free when you reach for the soap.

  • Well, the Danes pride themselves on being innovative and smart, Danish design and all that, but they suffer from the same faulty logic as the French when it comes to bathroom design. Before we were married, my husband lived in an apartment with no real bathroom, just a water closet. He had to go downstairs every day to take a shower in the basement…twelve units sharing showering facilities.

    Our first apartment had a bathroom with a shower corner, no curtain of course. Luckily it was a fairly large room (large enough to accommodate a tub or two), so only the toilet and sink got wet. At least the previous owners were courteous enough to leave the squeegee so we could direct the water into the drain (the floor was level).

    When we got our last apartment, it was the bathroom that sold me because it had a real tub, something I hadn’t in 3 years, and a shower curtain. A way to contain the water! When my MIL saw the bathroom, she said we should remodel and get rid of the tub because it was old-fashioned.

    Do the French have those smart toilets that do half or whole flushes, identified by the half circle or whole circle on the flushing toggle? I didn’t know what the half and whole circles meant, so I’d toggle both ways. A flush and a half. This probably went on for a year and a half until hubby caught me and explained how to properly flush the toilet.

  • And I thought it was just moi. Having lived in France I have had intimate experiences with all you have mentioned and find the showers most perplexing. I was certain that there was something the French knew that I didn’t. I imagined they had a certain “je ne sais quoi” which allowed them to operate those crazy showers more effectively. I spent a summer in the South of France spraying the entire bathroom and apartment. Funny thing is, I had to have a French shower hose here in the states (WITH a shower curtain, bien sur!)

    As for l’hygiene, I was equally mystified last month when the butcher, after having cut up some raw meat, went to slice some pate for me, without washing his hands..mon dieu..I guess slews of Frenchmen are not falling ill so it must be fine. Perhaps we Americans are “trop” hygenique. Those hand sanitizers are evil and kill off the good bacteria.

    Thanks for a fabulous post.

  • The Japanese hole in the floor toilets are a joy compared to some of the sketchy toilet seats I’ve encountered in the US. Using Le Hole (??) while wearing high heels on a moving bullet train should be an Olympic sport.

  • david, this post is amazing. definitely one of your best. i’m more familiar with italy, but so much of what you wrote rings true for me.

  • hmm..i dont understand the design logic of the american bathrooms, actually..

    i think its absolutely disgusting to have the toilet and the bath/tub in the same enclosed space. an elegant solution would be to have either seperate rooms or seperate the spaces.

    i wouldnt store milk and dairy together either…storing is one thing and eating them together is another. the problem with storing milk and meat together is that they are ‘standing’ together at rather suspicious temperatures..which fluctuate everytime you open the fridge door. but thats just me.

    back to the bathrooms…i would rather have showers like the one pictured above than a tub with a curtain..those curtains are breeding grounds for all living things fuzzy and green. it is more efficient to clean a place with a drainage and a standing shower. instead of the serpilliere, we use a sturdy broom to push the water towards the draining hole. dries up beautifully and while cleaning the bathroom(which should be at least twice a week), its easy to disinfect and swipe every surface squeaky clean.

  • oops..one more thing..re the mop…david..isnt it easier to wash a piece of cloth than to wring a mop!!

    in india, my house has neither hard wood or carpets..we did have carpets, but when got pets, we ripped it all out. the original floors are beautiful mosiac and everyday, after sweeping, they are swabbed with a piece of cloth with phenoyl. it is a lot easier than using a mop!! when i finally did switch to a mop, i removed the wringly medusa hair like thingy attachment and attached a piece of cloth..so its still a piece of cloth with a long stick attached to it.

  • I was very puzzled by the rolled up and tied pieces of carpet used to direct the flow of water on the streets. What is this, a third world country?-I often asked my husband that. Why isn’t there some cool metal flow directing contraption? My husband said it was because no one would ever steal the rolled up carpet. Hmmm. Also, being from Texas, it seems such a waste of water the way they use it to wash debris down the gutters to the sewer-but then, they never asked my opinion.

  • darlene: Wow, sharing a shower with 12 Danes! How progressive (and to a less-exciting extent, ecological).

    Now get me a train ticket…I’m on my way…

    And yes, we have those great 2-option toilets, that flush depending on…um…what needs to go down & out. I had a pretty funny lesson from a plumber when I moved here about when to use which time.

    Wish I had a video camera for it—that would have made a fabulous video blog entry!

    Linda: I never even thought of them existing on the street so they wouldn’t get stolen. But seeing as how much they treasure their serpillières, I’m surprised more of them aren’t pinched. But I think the water comes right up from the Seine, which is free too.

    FB: In San Francisco, most of the Victorian homes have separate rooms, but my Paris apt has just one bathroom that multi-tasks. And I also only have one refrigerator, so I can’t store meat and dairy separately—am not sure what others do around here to keep them separate! Can’t imagine having room for two refrigerators in a little Parisian apartment.

    Izzy: I avoid those hand sanitizers too. I’ve seen people actually using them at the table, in restaurants!

    (People should do their personal grooming and cleansing outside…or in the can, not at the table.)

    Raw beef is different than raw pork in terms of microbes. But I do think the French have stronger, or at least different, constitutions than we Americans.

    It’s that C’est la vie…which is why we love ‘em!

  • Bless you David for keeping the bane of most tourists- the sacrosanct bathroom- funny! Yup, each one different, no two alike. And as for the water flowing down the gutters, I believe it’s from the beloved Seine and flows through an amazing series of channels to help keep the City of Lights free of Cholera (established after the 1832 epidemic). Hmmm did you notice that Purell and Javel rhyme?

  • When we first set up house, L bought several of those rags to kick around, an absolute necessity. The paradox is that although they look as puffy and and absorbent as a baby’s diaper when dry, they are actually made of some kind of synthetic mix that will not absorb water and just spreads things around. The only time I ever used the ones we had was when the neighbor dropped a bottle of vinegar on the marble stairs outside our apartment, and I decided to give the entire stairwell a good scrubbing. The entire building thought I was off my rocker for detailing the stairwell. It added to the reputation of Americans as clean freaks. I took advantage of that time to throw them away along with a hundred years of dirt. My husband got mad at me when he found out I had thrown them away.

  • Oh no — I never, ever thought about those dirty little rags and now I can’t think of anything else! The post is hilarious!

  • David, you’ve truly outdone yourself here by sharing your completely realistic experiences of France with us good ole boys.

    I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard ever. And while I’m hardly germ-phobic and know that good handwashing after touching something mildewy and bacteria-ridden will clean me up, I just can’t quite understand letting a soggy towel live on the floor. Ack!

  • This did make me laugh! Especially the “fish that was about to go bad” part. How sweet of them to tell you that!
    I bought one of those serpillière towels merely out of curiosity, used it once to mop our tile floors, washed it afterwards in the washing machine because it was disgusting, and haven’t used it since. Long live the sponge mop!

  • David,

    I laughed out loud when i read your post. It so reminded me of the in laws. We get invited round for tea and when you get there, they say, ‘Oh, it’s only chicken, it had to be eaten by today’ or ‘Yes, we are going on holiday, so we are going to eat the frozen pie from the freezer because it should of been eaten by now!!’

    eek, omg, it’s my pet hate. I think it’s the nurse in me, I am really funny about food that is nearly going off!

    ok, I will step down of my soap box now that I have gotten that out my system :)

  • It’s not just the lack of shower curtains in bathrooms (and how about those half-tub-length glass semi-enclosures), but how can a country that prides itself on being the cuisine capital of the world, have the world’s worst and smallest kitchens (even in most restaurants)?

  • Thank you for solving a mystery for me – those rolled up and tied rugs at curbs, which I thought were prayer rugs. I have only seen them during rainy seasons, now that I think about it. They were all over Paris in May.

    I had no idea!

  • *fruit covered in fuzzy-green mold

    Un fruit botrytis? The secret of Sauternes.

    You can store, milk, creme, other dairies, eggs, kimchi, munster, horseradish condiment, pate de campagne, left over of sardine grillée, fried crabs, melon, durian, cameras, angora wool sweaters, nail varnish and absolutely everything all together in the same fridge…as long as you love the delicate garlic pemmikan after-taste of the crème au beurre you’ll obtain with your mega-shelf-life eggs and butter.

    Truffle flavored eggs are not that bad: Put one fresh truffle in an hermetic box with a dozen of ultra-fresh eggs in their shell. The next day, you can take your truffle and use it for cooking something else. Eat your eggs in omelette or aà la coque : they have a refined truffle flavor.

    You can flavor chocolate the same way, but please NOT with an assortment of Epoisse, banana and rillettes…

  • gah..i didnt mean to be overcritical. just saying that i see the logic behind it.

  • …Well…there must be some divine higher power (who is most likely French) that’s reading the blog. No sooner had I posted this than I had another unfortunate encounter with une serpillière.

    I was at a birthday party Saturday night, all dressed up, and the dishwasher started overflowing. I asked the hostess if she had a mop and she motioned towards a closet. When I opened it, there was no mop…but a stack of…serpillières!

    So there I was, on my hands and knees, sopping up funky water with grey, less-than-absorbent towels and wringing them out. Ick. And of course, I was thinking of this post.

    I guess sometimes there’s no getting around it—and I just have to touch it!

    C’est ma vie…

  • Your blog reminded me of a thankfully brief stay in Manchester. I was there for a meeting at the university and we were housed in the dorms. The bathrooms (en suite, no less) were minuscule. If you were sitting on the toilet and needed to lean forward, you risked knocking yourself unconscious on the sink. (This was a significant risk for several of the men in our group who were well over 6 feet tall.) The shower was similarly challenging. While it came equipped with a curtain, it’s function was questionable since it refused to stay in the tiny shower and instead caused water to flood onto the floor. Of course, since we were doled out only one bath towel, the clean up was problematic. While I realize this was a dorm and not 4-star accommodations, I really pitied the students who had to cope with the facilities on a daily basis.

  • Oh please, no one has visited France until you’ve flushed a public toilet all over you.

    Note to self – don’t step on the handle of a “camping destination” toilet…it’s truly “Doosgustin”

  • THANK YOU for finally answering how the French deal with no shower curtains. The last apartment we rented in Paris did not have one. Neither did the two before that. The first one did, but I suspect it was because it was owned by a Franco-American couple. The other thing I CAN’T understand is how much I have spent on shower curtains at BHV to make the stay at the aforementioned apartments workable (when we stay we stay for a minimum of 2 weeks, usually 4). I have now dropped 15 Euros (or 20 dollars) 3 times for the cheapest piece of plastic I have ever seen. The same one would cost 3 bucks in the States. I am beginning to think I should pack a curtain in my suticase next time.

    Mon Dieu!

  • This is completely off-topic (though I entertained the thought of having the roof of Notre Dame covered in serpillières to direct water flow quite amusing.)

    Last evening, my daughter and I made your Chocolate Coconut Sherbet (the recipe was on Chow.com) and it is amazing. If a frozen dessert could be called exhilirating, this certainly fits that bill. It received highest ratings possible from my husband (in the form of “I will load the dishwasher for a week if you make more of this.”)

    We loved it. This will definitely be added to our repertoire, and I’ve just ordered the book from whence it came. Thanks!

    Bisoux,
    Daniela

  • i just moved back to the US after 4 months in France. i love how you illustrate the simple and questionable things of france that i ironically miss so much. it IS the most awkward thing taking a shower as a guest in someone’s home and never quite knowing how to take care of all of the water that shouldn’t-have-but-did somehow end up ALL over the bathroom. i still wonder how the french really do it. i still have to doubt that make the same mess i always did. maybe it’s a mastered skill. even after four months…i really thought i had the hang of it, but still there was always some water bound to end up outside of the tub.
    thank you for making me laugh and bringing back NOW good memories!

  • Oh David, you made my day! One of the thigs that I have my parents ship 5 at a time is those darn serpillieres!! Well, I grew up on them and use them all the time, much to the dismay of my husband the American. He thiks this is the grossest thing ever….he’s probably right and it is scary to think that a small piece of germ-full cloth makes me feel closer to home!

  • Methinks that the American sponge, the one that’s usually placed under the sink in either the kitchen or the bathroom is, at least for me, the equivalent of the French ‘shmatah’.

  • Maureen: There are less-pricey shower curtains in Paris. Those of us in-the-know wait until the sales at Habitat…and those of us really in the know stock up at Target when back in the states!

    DrB: Yes, I bleach my sponges with eau de javel for that very reason. Haven’t seen anyone doing that with a serpillière yet, but maybe we can start a trend.

    kerr: I’m going to launch a new enterprise, a portable ‘Travelers Shower Curtain’

    Haven’t figured out quite how to pull it off, but look for it in the Sky Mall catalog in the seat pocket in front of you, sometime in the future!

  • I’m howling with laughter. When I lived with a family in France, I was so puzzled by this rag that was dragged all over the house. Then rinsed and re-dragged. Daily. Weekly. Monthly.

    And when I had an apartment in Paris with the hose in the bathtub but no shower, I had it down to an art. Taking a shower was like doing ballet. But then my sister came to visit. She never got the hang of it. My bathroom was drenched every day, and we didn’t have the drain!

    And I have been told about the hygiene and Speedos so many times I’m starting to believe it myself. It’s like Speedo has these French folks out there to brainwash the rest of us into buying the floss suit to prevent poor hygiene. But really. It makes no sense…

  • Oh dear lord…the germophobe in me is now reluctant to travel to Paris. I’m one of those Americans that carries hand sanitizer with me anywhere and everywhere. Would I be ridiculed if I brought it there too? Heh (if airports will allow me…)

  • Hm. How come you had to clean up when the dishwasher at someone else’s home was on the fritz?

    Can any of your French friends answer this: when they visit the U.S., where every home and hotel room has a shower with a curtain or a full glass enclosure, what do they think? Do they get claustrophobic? Do they see the design sense? Or do they just enjoy mopping?

  • I never understand the shower either. My in-laws find me barbaric for how wet I get the place when I take a shower, but…I still can’t figure out how not to. I think it’s something to do with the way my in-laws can all eat absolutely anything under the sun (the flakiest croissant in the world, say) and never catch a speck of it on their clothes. The same talent crosses over to the spray from the shower. That has to be it.

  • This had me in tears. I just got back from 2 weeks visiting family and traveling in Ethiopia and I just didn’t get it. I think showering with no curtain must be a skill people are taught at a very young age. I’d shower, wetting just about every surface in the bathroom (which was sans serpillieres or me to clean up after myself with)

    do the serpillieres and the washing machine and/or bleach ever hang out?

  • “Can any of your French friends answer this: when they visit the U.S., where every home and hotel room has a shower with a curtain or a full glass enclosure, what do they think? Do they get claustrophobic? Do they see the design sense? Or do they just enjoy mopping?”

    A bit late, and although i’m not a friend of David’s but i’m french i’ll answer that one if you dont mind :

    I have been puzzled throughout all the comments because i cant remember the last time i went to a hotel, family or friends’ home where there wasnt at least a shower curtain. Now i have to admit that i have been disconcerted on a few occasions by the shower design at a few hotels, for example a glass curtain only covering half or even a third of the whole cabin… i’m the kind to push the lever all the way no matter how strong the flow so anything less than a full enclosure invariably ends up in an aquatic disaster.

    Now to answer your question directly : the first time we went to the US, our rented house had a shower cabin and we loved it immediately. It’s probably the one thing we loved the most about the house, before even the A/C system (we were in Florida, where our hearts still are after 6 interminable years away). Believe it or not, curtain or not i still manage to spill water all around and a shower cabin finally made my wife the happiest woman on earth and in retrospect i was at least as happy as she was, because of all the nagging it saved me from. Since then i’ve noticed that these cabins have become very popular in new constructions in France, because most people we know who have had a house build in the past 11 years have one, and even in Poland ! A couple of friends who had a new house build in the Krakow area in the late 90s had not only the same kind of cabin we had in Florida, but emotion almost overcame us when we saw it was the exact same brand !!

    About the “serpilleres” though, guilty as charged… my wife, at least, lol !

  • We have no mops like you describe, but “floor rags” (=serpillieres) here in Scandinavia….when I lived in Austria and Denmark, they just rinsed the rags. I did not feel comfortable with it….just like you.

    I use fresh rags each time, and they are wasched in the washing machine at the highest temperature. A friend uses old terry cloth towels which are then washed in the washing machine.
    I grew up in Austria and this is what I remember. The floors were swept with brooms or vacuumed, not washed but the kitchen floor was washed. We kept our street shoes on inside.

    Here in Scandinavia we take off our shoes inside the house and use machine-washed fresh rags/serpilleres to clean the floors…..and we buy shower cabins now since the showering on the floor and walls cause water damage that is very expensive to repair. People get sick from water damage.
    When I was small, I used to get bathed in a wooden tub once a week. Then afterwards we got bathtubs and then showers and threw out the bathtubs. We have a bathroom in our house we do not use because the water always gets to the opposite side of the floor, where there is no drain.
    One uses squeegees to get the water down the drains, and we use the same squeegee to wash the floors in the rest of the house, there is an attachment that holds the rag (serpilliere) unto the squeegee…..
    You can take them mop off and wash in the washing machine, can`t you?