Le Bain Douche

January 11, 2007 at 2:16 pm | Posted in backstory, vie quotidienne | 13 Comments

In the realm of science and technology, there’s no question that the French have achieved many great things. Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie, Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac: all worked hard to demystify the world around us and improve the lot of humanity.

And yet, one scientific mystery still remains: what the hell is up with French showers? I’ve lived in many different French homes, stayed in many hotels, and wherever I am, the shower is always the same*: a pathetic little nozzle fixed on the end of a long, flexible tube and suspended from a hook on the wall. Exhibit A:

shower up

This is how a normal French shower looks. And I suppose French people will try to justify its design — they might note that the detachable shower head is the height of convenience, allowing you to point the nozzle directly where you want it. And sure, I’ll grant, that might occasionally be useful.

The problem is, I need both hands free to wash my hair. And that little hook that’s supposed to keep the nozzle pointed at my head? It’s not working! Half the designs I’ve seen send the nozzle clattering to the floor every time you turn on the water. And the one I’ve got now? It does this:

shower down

Not useful! In the past, when this has happened, I’ve taken my soggy self over to the tool cabinet to fetch a screwdriver, and within a couple minutes had the whole contraption right as rain (so to speak). But this morning? That tactic is fruitless. No longer happy with the occasional disruption of daily life (a shower manif, you might say), the shower head has staged a full-on revolt.

I guess the threads on the screw are worn out or something, but no amount of tightening will convince the head to remain upright for more than a few seconds. How do the French put up with this sort of thing?

The whole ordeal has got me thinking: how is it, in this age of globalization, that France and America can have such different approaches to a tool that each of us uses every day? Why is it that I can get a crappy cheeseburger in McDonalds all around this city, but I can’t wash my hair without getting banged in the head by my shower nozzle every morning?


*Except for my French summer camp, which had showers in what I affectionately call the “concentration camp” style. Basically, they herded all the kids into a room, told us to strip, and water shot down from near the ceiling in chilly, fifteen second bursts.



  1. They have the same kind of showers in Germany…when I studied there I perfected the technique of holding it between my knees when I shampooed. Actually, mine wasn’t even attached shower-style (it was down by the bath), so it did involve a lot of getting used to!

  2. Between your knees? Ach, how unbearably awful. How do europeans was their hair?

  3. I noticed the same thing while I was in Italy. That and the drain in the floor issues that cause me to ruin my knee for weeks and the fact that they were all very very small.

    But I was only in hotels.

  4. This post cracks me up! My trick was to either hold the thing between my knees, like Stephanie, or to step away from the spray to wash my hair. I guess that you could keep warm by just sticking your head closer to the wall when you wash your hair, letting the water cascade down your back.

    Also, I am fully loving the evidence of lime scale on the shower head. Vive le tartre! (um, just kidding.)

  5. Alison – now I realize I totally should have cleaned and decalcified (delimed?) the shower before I took these. But I’m totally too lazy. Enh, as long as the water comes out.

  6. I take baths or shower sitting down. Problem solved.

  7. JChevais, I wonder if that is indeed what most French people do. Personally I hate baths or anything resembling them, but that probably makes me weird.

  8. It’s what my husband does… and he’s french.

    But he’s weird too. So it’s a close call.

  9. Well, I only currently have a stand-up shower, and even though I never even really take baths when I actually HAVE a bathtub, for some reason I miss the simple SPACE of a bathtub… And I feel for you here, Amy — I too have just had to adapt to the French system, usually doing like Stephanie with the holding-between-the-knees technique. But to be honest with you, the technique I use most often is the I-have-to-be-economical one anyway, which translates to simply turning off the water while I shampoo! (our hot water runs out pretty quickly, so I have to be as thrifty as possible!) I’ve learned to take pretty fast showers and always to shut off the flow of water while soaping up. It’s a pain, and as a result, showering is certainly not the pleasure it once was, but oh well — again, when forced to adapt…

  10. Seriously, Alice? How awful, I don’t know if I could live like that. Long hot showers are one of my major joys in life.

  11. Iceland has the best showers in the world, and the hottest water. This is going to be a great shock to me next month when I move to Dublin where they have the second worst showers in th world, next to France.

    And hello, by the way. Found your blog via your funny comment re “underwater chickens” over at Petite’s place.

  12. Welcome, Annie! I hope you enjoy Dublin, bad showers be damned.

  13. easy to explain– sad to say, showers don’t have the same definition here as we’re accustomed to– here it’s get in and get out, not get in and languish under the hot water. So the hook on the wall isn’t meant to douse your head with water, hands-free– it’s just to put the nozzle down somewhere while you wash.

    one day when we have a super-nice, renovated bathroom, we can all take american-style showers. can’t wait…

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