How I Break The Rules In Paris (and get away with it!)
I love my Parisian life, I truly do. Cute cafés and cobblestones, croissants and champagne. The clichés are wonderful, but they do come with a hefty side serving of rules and regulations. I'm a free-spirited Aussie girl living in a country of five million civil servants, who sometimes make me feel like I need a lot more than a couple of glasses of champagne to cope with la vie française.
For instance, it's forbidden to walk on the grass in public gardens or swim in public fountains. In fact it's pretty hard to find any grass on which to walk at all. Perfectly manicured gardens and fountains exist to be admired only. And athough the Seine sparkles its way through the entire city, it's not fit for swimming. Many of the public pools are indoors and lack garden areas in which to loll around and top up your tan.
So when springtime rolls around, you wake up to a 26 degrees day and you're an ex-Byron Bay girl who's used to hidden waterfalls, beaches and nature, what are you to do?
You try to find a nearby public pool. That is, one that's: A. open; and B. has a garden area.
You'd think that every pool in Paris would be open on such a day, particularly because it is springtime, it is 26 degrees and it's school holidays, right? But no, both of the pools in my neighbourhood were closed today, goddamit.
However, I did discover another pool further afield, in the Bois de Boulogne. It's website said it was not only open, but proudly displayed photos of it's healthy green lawn on which many a bronzed Parisian was lounging. Score!
With a little picnic, bikini and sunblock in a bag slung over my shoulder, I was so happy I almost skipped the whole hour that it took by foot to reach the pool through the bois (forest). After paying a rather exorbitant entry fee of 3,50 euros (AUD$6), I discovered a grotty, fully enclosed pool, and that not only was the "garden" actually a woeful narrow patch of weeds, but it was also closed! Merde !
Gone was my fantasy of lying around the lawn, toasting my translucent white winter skin before plunging my sweaty body into a pristine pool. There was no way I was going to sit in that steamy little sweatbox of a cesspool.
My request for a refund was met with shrugged shoulders and "Desolé, come back another day" even after showing them their own website photos. So I silently cursed the French and their antiquated beaurocratic ways, decided to turn my frown upside down and take my lily-white ass and peanut butter sandwich elsewhere.
Forty-five minutes later I arrived tired, hot and hungry, with Birkenstock sandals full of pebbles, in the forest near Parc du Bagatelle. Trying to find a shady place to rest, I emerged through the trees and almost tripped over a herd of naked men, slumbering and sunbaking like white rhino in an open patch of long grass. Like a startled game hunter, I backed away as quietly as possible so as not to disturb the wild beasts, who might jump up in alarm and frighten me further with parts of their bodies I thankfully couldn't currently see.
I found an idyllic spot filled with squawking peacocks, cherry blossom trees, magnolias and a little duck-filled pond. Deciding to take a bit of cheeky revenge on the bloody rule-obsessed French, I walked all over the lawns (forbidden), picked a bunch of tulips the size of my hand (also forbidden) and sunbaked in my bikini on the grass in front of everyone strolling by. I'm pretty sure that's forbidden too, but no one seemed to notice except some overly friendly ducks, who I thought about feeding (also forbidden), but was too hungry by then to share my peanut butter sandwich with, and instead devoured it myself, much to their obvious indignation.
It's common knowledge that the French break their own rules all the time. I'm pretty sure it's why they invented them in the first place. When my Frenchman found out what I did, he told me there's actually a word (or phrase) for that kind of behaviour : abus de bien social (misuse of corporate assets). Somehow that only served to make me laugh.
So I suddenly felt a whole lot better. I didn't get my 3,50 euros back nor a swim in a pool, but I did break some minor french laws and piss off their wildlife. Ha!