I Saw Breasts


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.


  • July 16, 2007 4:42am

    Dude, you have a boob obsession.

    I love you for it.

  • July 16, 2007 5:37am

    Hee hee — this was a hilarious story! I love how you tell these, David. And I love the contrast between your changing-room story in San Francisco and the one back in Paris. Ah, the French! How we love ’em…

  • July 16, 2007 6:44am

    Some days I just can’t decide whether I prefer breasts or bottoms.

  • July 16, 2007 6:50am

    I too had some problems adjusting to the nudity in the locker room (even with only women!) and also coming from the SF area, I thought it wouldn’t impact me as much…well, I am getting more numb as time goes by.

    I will have to show you a recent show I watched called “Tutti Nudi” on All Music – regular people stripping on TV and you can send them an SMS to meet…on a normal TV channel! It was hilarious. (Check YouTube for clips)

  • July 16, 2007 6:52am

    Yes, it must be a combination of French and American upbringing that I’ll change however in a roomful of women, but not so in a space like the one you’re talking about where there might be men.
    The way you tell this story is hilarious.

  • July 16, 2007 7:25am

    I remember being very confused when using a sauna (the one attached to a swimming pool, not the other type) in Edinburgh. I expected all to take off their swimming suits when entering the steam room, but oh no, not in Britain. Sitting in 80C room with my swimming suit is not exactly my idea of a good and relaxing sauna experience. I much prefer the Estonian way :)

  • July 16, 2007 7:42am

    David, this story had me laughing for about 20 minutes. Skivvies, boobies, chicken, it’s all too funny.

    What’s not funny is our bizarre puritanical approach to the human body, a topic that seems to come up quite a bit when I hang out with my latino brothers and sisters (who, of course, may think some parts of American culture are hung up on body type but of course would still gasp at skinning down to your skivvies in public).

    I just don’t understand why people get so bothered by naked folks.

    I suppose I should get dressed now.

    Great story!

  • Keely
    July 16, 2007 10:00am

    Don’t let that one lady in San Francisco tell you what to do! Maybe if she sees more casual semi-nakedness, she’ll realize it’s not going to send her straight to hell.

  • Nan
    July 16, 2007 10:51am

    David, this might amuse you:


    (CNN article today about Vermont “nude” town)

    Thanks for the very funny post once again…

  • July 16, 2007 10:58am

    what about all those naked dogs running around town?
    :D it seems that all the women with their little dressed up dogs have taken care of *that* obscenity!

    In the modern dance class I took at Berkeley, everyone used to strip completely naked (boys, girls, whatever) (no underwear worn under leotards, you know) in the dance room (we didn’t have any real changing area) — and stand around chatting with each other and the teacher… I used to change as quickly as possible — though I find that being naked forces people to make a lot more eye contact than we normally would.

  • July 16, 2007 1:02pm

    dddg: Modern dance? Hmmmm…that’s something I may need to try next time I’m back in Berkeley…address please?

  • Barbara
    July 16, 2007 2:03pm

    But here in my sweltering little rooftop apartment…

    Hi David,

    Here in Detroit, Michigan it can get hot too. Have you ever heard of a poor man’s air condition? It is a big block of ice set in front of a fan (make sure that it is in something that will hold the melted ice too). If you seal a room off (close doors or hang a blanket over the door(s)), it will cool off a 9 x 12 room off for the night. Used to do this before we got air in the house. Love reading your blog, and like the rest of your readers, I do laugh too for a long time.

    Stay cool anyway you can,


  • July 16, 2007 2:17pm

    Your description of SF is too funny – and too true! Thanks for the laugh today.

  • July 16, 2007 2:19pm

    Oh, for crying out loud. This is what we get for yoga going mainstream. How ridiculously priggish considering the city of San Francisco. Perhaps she never sets foot south of Market.

    The biggest shocker for me, hanging out in Paris, was all of the full nudity on the television, turning into triple X after about 11 pm. We, on the other hand, have no problem showing one violent act after another in our mass media.

    And yes, I would have to agree with Fatemeh, that you are obsessed with boobs.

  • flavia
    July 16, 2007 5:18pm

    I say: Stay in Paris !! Or come visit us here in Rio where nudity is, how shall I put it, underrated…
    Thanks for the great caramel au beurre salé ice cream recipe. It was a huge success yesterday at my otherwise very boring family lunch… :)

  • July 16, 2007 5:44pm

    David: the modern dance classes were at UC Berkeley — this was several years ago, though, and all the faculty I knew have or will retire soon, and I don’t know if the classes are open on a drop-in basis (they weren’t when I was there).

    You can probably still get a glimpse of the shenanigans if you drop by the studio on Bancroft, which used to be a church and has a huge round amber window in the back — the most beautiful place to practice dance, in terms of ambience.

    Unfortunately I can’t say much about the Bay Area dance scene after a 6-year absence — if you’re really interested in dancing, you might try Robert Moses’ class (he teaches at LINES in SF), though it might be too challenging if you’ve never done it before.

  • mary
    July 16, 2007 5:44pm

    I just got back from a weekend at the Oregon Country Fair. Plenty of bare tops and bottoms. They request genitals covered, but it’s amazing how little cloth or mud it takes to do that. It made trying on a new dress in a less than private changing area a very relaxed activity!

  • July 16, 2007 7:30pm

    ahhh…boobs are lovely things…mmmm, and spit roasted chicken. order up please!

  • July 16, 2007 8:57pm

    Gallo for me when I get to Paris again Dave! Breast meat I like but thigh and wings are finger lickin good!
    Dave thanks for your tease!

  • sam
    July 17, 2007 2:00am

    Huh? She complained even though you kept your knickers on? She should have complained only because you DID keep your knickers on.

    We used to have a hot tub in SF and Fred’s rule was only naked in the hot tub. Most people caved in and stripped off. Except that little gaggle of French girls from Paris that came to stay one time. They were too shy and had to borrow my swim suits…

  • connie
    July 17, 2007 2:36am

    Was this at Castro Yoga Flow? If, so, that lady needs to lighten up, cause there’s one dude in Rusty’s class who just wears a Speedo. And I’ve seen um, things, pop out of low cut tank tops mid-class.

  • July 17, 2007 3:32am

    This really made me laugh out loud. I enjoyed reading this post a lot.

    Someone mentioned violence in contrast to nudity. We had friends from the States who used to cover their kids eyes when a harmless kissing scene was show on TV. But the little kids were allowed to see any kind of violent film with smashing and rolling heads, etc.
    This is one thing I could never understand. Why is it better to show your kids violent ugly movies and keep movies with human scenes (I’m not talking about sex scenes) away from them.

  • July 17, 2007 3:44am

    Does anybody remember the great underwear advertisement (HOM) which was plastered all over Paris some years ago? The ads were phantastic!

    http://hom.com/ > communications > ads > 1997

    I really liked the creative campaign, but I know a lot of people who were against these pics hanging publicly.

  • July 17, 2007 6:57am

    Hmm…I’m surprised to hear there’s an organization in France against sexist ads, and you have me wondering whether there’s one in Italy.

    You paint lovely images, btw :)

  • July 17, 2007 11:07am

    connie: Why yes, it was Rusty’s class! : ) But, you know, there’s certainly far more interesting people…and other things to look at…than me.

    sognatrice: I think as long as there are sexy images somewhere there are organizations that are against them. (Although everyone’s so sexy in Italy, I kinda hope there isn’t one there.)

    ksklein: There was an undie ad last year plastered around Paris on bus shelters and billboards with a photo of a ‘happy’ fella…who was obviously very ‘happy‘.

    I didn’t hear any complaining but I tried not to look at it too often—but it was everywhere and I couldn’t help it. I’ve searched and searched the internet looking for where it is so I don’t ever have to see it again either.

    Sam: Hot tub??

    I’m on my way!

  • July 17, 2007 3:19pm

    As a former professional dancer (ballet-modern, not that kind of dance), I can tell you changing in the studio is very normal (even in America). Some people are more discreet, while other members of my company might wander around the studio after rehearsal in their underwear. Because of this, I’m pretty comfortable with bodies, but somethings (like someone undressing while facing you in a conversation) still catch me off guard!

  • Kate
    July 17, 2007 4:59pm

    my husband used to be fascinated by the thought of the beaches in spain and france, where clothing was generally minimal and changing in public was commonplace… he wasn’t quite as impressed with the fact that the seventy year old grandmothers and grandfathers were changing right alongside of the twenty year old beauties… i thought it was great and funny.. equal opportunity nudity…

  • July 18, 2007 10:04am

    LOL! I must say, I’ve always thought the Europeans have the most relaxed attitude to nudity of anybody – how else can you explain the Englischer Garten in the middle of Munich where a bunch of dames und herren strip off and lounge or wander about in full view of the covered-up folk across the stream?? Imagine that in Central Park!! Of course, I exclude the English from my definition of European…

  • July 18, 2007 3:05pm

    You took the words right out of my mouth! I never really understood the problem with nudity, but then I grew up in Bavaria, where naked and not-naked people do sunbathing together. It’s a hilarious image, when mounted police trots through the Englischer Garten passing by dozens of naked people of all ages – and nothing happens.

    Hilarious story, David!

  • Steve
    July 18, 2007 8:33pm

    Thanks for the restaurant tip!!

  • Steve
    July 18, 2007 8:35pm

    (Phew–thank goodness I hit the ‘p’.)


Get David's newsletter sent right to your Inbox!


Sign up for my newsletter and get my FREE guidebook to the best bakeries and pastry shops in Paris...