On Bastille Day, All Hail the Speedo

In France, the maillot de bain sportif is mandatory

Paul Greenberg
3 min readJul 14, 2023

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Photo by Sarah Labuda on Unsplash

The sign over the pool attendant’s window depicted two men. The message was plain, irrefutable but unacceptable. The first wore normal bathing trunks. The second wore underwear. The normal man had an X through his crotch. The underwear man did not. My girlfriend squeezed my hand, and a bellow came out of my chest.

“No!”

Oui! Oui!” the attendant answered. “For health reasons.”

“You mean — ”

“Yes. It is obligatory. For health reasons you cannot wear your American bathing suit here. You must wear the maillot de bain sportif.”

A maillot de bain sportif. Translated, a “bathing suit for sport.” In other words, a f*cking Speedo.

I had been cooperative with the French. I tolerated the common protest bof! and I learned to pronounce my oui on a breathy, Parisian inhale. When a local I had hired told me, “I will not do what you ask because it is not a part of my mission,” I just smiled. But the Speedo was my Maginot Line. No “health reason” would ever persuade me to wear a Lycra fig leaf in public.

The French didn’t care about germs. What the French cared about was sexiness. And one proven way of being officially sexy in France was to be in a uniform.

I phoned a fellow expat, hoping he would share my outrage at the Speedo law and the bogus “health reason” that pretended to justify it. But to my dismay, 10 years of a decadent Left Bank lifestyle had turned my friend into a fervent advocate of what the French called a moule-bite. Literally a “cock cast.”

“Look,” he said with trumped-up Gallic indignity, “an American swimsuit is simply shorts. A person could wear one all over the city — on a filthy bus, a park bench. And then he could just jump in the pool, covered in germs!”

Germs? Bof! The more I thought about it, the more my xenophobe-in-exile logic crystallized around the central point: The French didn’t care about germs. What the French cared about was sexiness. And one proven way of being officially sexy in France was to be in a…

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org