Things You Learn in German Swimming Pools

Disclaimer: most of these experiences relate to Hamburg and they are my observations only.

Well, I guess the first thing I learned was that without some kind of subscription or membership card, this beloved activity was going to be expensive, so I got one and it’s been with me for almost eleven years. I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth.

What threw me during my very first pool visit as I navigated my way to the changing rooms, trying to remember all the turns, was that the hair dryers were attached out in the open, no partitions or walls of any kind between them. For some reason, before I had confronted any other elements of the swimming pool experience which have much more shock potential for someone who didn’t grow up with certain elements of the German culture (keep reading), seeing people blowing their tresses dry with other visitors just passing by was unexpectedly intimate. Even if everyone was, thankfully, clothed. To paraphrase one of my favorite scenes from Criminal Minds, sometimes a girl just wants to dry her hair alone, you know?

I was feverishly deciding, calling forth my Russian upbringing, whether it would be safe to ditch the hair drying after my swim and cover up snugly with a hat, because regardless of the season, you should never ever go outside with wet hair, when I arrived at the changing rooms. Yeah. So, this is not always the case, but it’s good to know that it might be. Sometimes the only thing separating the women’s changing area from the men’s is apparent trust in the fact that no one will peak around locker row corners or turn their head that extra inch when walking to the pool entrance. It’s also customary to murmur a Hello or Good Morning when you come in, regardless of the fact whether fellow ladies present are changing or not.

And thus we come to the final point of this story, namely the showers. Basically all of the above made it clear to me that I either had to find a mental, sometimes physical, way around it, or not go to the pool at all, which would be a pity. Greetings also take place here, as well as small talk, such as: comments on the water temperature in the pool, the strength of the shower gush, asking to borrow someone’s shampoo, observations on how crowded it is. What’s more, people make eye contact here. I. Can’t. Do. This. I can’t even look at my friends if we go to the pool together and then to the shower! We seem to understand each other without additional explanations: stop talking as soon as you enter the shower area, eyes up and focused on your goal at hand, then when you’re done, discreetly ask, “Are you finished?” OR, in my case, quote Governor Swann from the first Pirates of the Caribbean, “Elizabeth? Are you decent?”

But these are all strangers, some of my other friends will say, you don’t know them, what does it matter if they are all naked in there? Precisely, they are strangers! And I do mind! But I have, after all, lived here for a while now, and I’ve become tougher in some respects, milder in others, added a dash more sarcasm and a pinch of simply being practical where I used to be stiff with terror. In the end, a blissful hour in the water far outweighs a few minutes spent in two other places that are just stops on the way and back.

But you won’t catch me in a sauna, nuh-uh.

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Swimming Snippets: Pool Ponderings

Soooo… I was swimming today and arrived at the thought that there seem to be two types of lap swimmers.

Type number one acts like they own the pool. People wade in and throw themselves into swimming laps without a glance in any direction, because the idea of other swimmers in the vicinity is just ludicrous, I guess. Preferred swimming styles include backstroke or the front crawl, and of course goggles and swimming caps add to the feeling that it’s just you in the pool. Get out of the way, all you other peasants with your heads above water!

Type number two carefully steps in, moves to the side so as not to be in the way of anyone reaching the end of their lap, then spends a few seconds looking around, picking a lane. They then elegantly lower their body into the water and strike out, taking care to keep enough distance between themselves and the feet and hands of other swimmers. If, God forbid, they do end up brushing limbs with someone passing by, they actually take the time to turn their head and at least mouth “Sorry”.

Type number one are also frequently noisy swimmers. You might not see them once you’re in the water and focusing on your own stroke, but you’ll hear them. I understand there’s a lot of action involved in what they do, there’s water around and that certain physical manifestations in the form of sounds escaping them is unavoidable. But blowing your nose, sniffing and clearing your throat with unrestrained relish that carries perfectly thanks to pool acoustics, and all this while swimming, seems a bit much.

Meanwhile, type twos are basically this:

I have picked my side…