Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Wearing Shorts in Paris
In the last few days I have had a couple of experiences which aid in reinforcing my reasoning for writing this article on the French perception of shorts.
Just yesterday, Julie surprised me for my birthday with a guided tour of L'Hôtel de Ville, or Paris' big city hall. It is very difficult to get access to the city hall, so I was thrilled to be along for the tour. Through a contact, Julie got us on tour with an elderly group from the Loire Valley.
About halfway through the tour, one of the ladies asked me "Where you with the group this morning?," even though I'm sure she knew that I wasn't, since we were the only ones below the age of 55. I told her no, that we got on this tour thanks to a friend, and this tour was a total surprise. She responded by saying, "Well it must have been since you are wearing shorts." She also commented to Julie to be careful when she sat down, as people might be able to see up her shorts.
In retrospect, if I had known that we would be on a tour of the city hall, I probably would have dressed a little nicer. I was wearing a collared shirt, shorts, and Birkenstock sandals. It was warm yesterday, so I wanted to be comfortable. Most of the group on tour were dressed as if going to a wedding; men were in suits and ties and ladies in elegant dresses.
If this was the only instance of being repressed for wearing shorts, I probably wouldn't be writing an article on the subject. However, this was not the only occasion.
A couple of weeks ago, I was giving a tour on another unusually warm day for April. As we were eating at one of the restaurants on tour, one of the cooks came out to say hello and see how things were going. As I got up to shake his hand, he comments, "Oh, are you being a tourist today as well?" As he said this, he looked down at my legs.
You guessed it, I was wearing shorts.
There was nothing mean in the way he said it, so I replied that it was hot and I like to be comfortable when giving a tour, and he agreed, and then we continued talking about other things.
One other example: A year or two ago, I was giving another tour with a group of anglophones when I heard a lady behind us start to comment to her daughter, "I don't get what it is with those tourists and wearing shorts." She didn't realize that someone in the group might speak French. I turned around as soon as she said this and made eye contact with her. Before I had the chance to respond, she realized that I understood, and pulled a 90 degree turn into the closest shop.
This is something that continues to baffle me. In a country where topless beaches are prevalent, and magazine kiosks next to schools are plastered with nude women in sexual acts, why do people here have fits about others who wear shorts?
When I first arrived here, I really tried my best to blend in with the French. I tried to eat like them, talk like them, and also dress like them. When it started to become warm, I tried to wear jeans when I worked outside, but alas, I gave up. It wasn't worth it for me to sacrifice my comfort for conformity.
Perhaps in a city where people still get dressed up just to go downstairs to go to the baker for 30 seconds, shorts are seen as sloppy. Rarely will one find a Parisian male whose legs are not covered by pants. Sandals, in addition, are still a rarity here, and a good way to stand out as a tourist.
Nevertheless, the amount of indignation and disgust with wearing shorts seems strangely out of proportion, especially considering how France is usually seen as more relaxed and liberal in terms of lifestyle. If anyone could provide further insight into why shorts are seen in such a poor light here in Paris, please let me know. Until then, I guess I'll just put up with the whispers and comments about baring my hairy legs to the public.