“Oh. Okay,” I think to myself as I wave at the friend I am meeting. “So THAT is what we are wearing.” I walk across the street, briskly, in my spandex pants, sports bra top, and tennis shoes.
After the obligatory kisses hello, we begin our stroll towards the Bastille.
“Are you going to be able to hike in those,” I ask her, looking at her feet. She is wearing ballet flats, skinny jeans, a fashionable sweater, and a floral scarf whereas I look like I’m about to rip open a protein pack with my teeth while simultaneously checking my heart rate.
“Ouais….,” she responds with a shrug. “I was out shopping so I just thought I would meet you from town.”
“Alright,” I say, totally unconvinced as I look up at the Napoleonic Fort we are about to attack.
To be clear, the Bastille is not a particularly long hike, only about 3.5 kilometers one-way but, in that 3.5 kilometers, there is a level difference of 300 meters. You basically feel like spider man scaling a rocky cliff.*
Now, for me, that means wearing shoes made for athletic performance and sweating, probably within the first 5 minutes of the walk (yes, I am a super-sweater) but my European friends and the French seem un-phased by this (Alien alert). I often meet friends to walk up the Bastille and never once have any of them had on tennis shoes…never. Not only that, often, they like to stop along the way, take in the view, smoke a cigarette or two…I mean, WHAT?! This is exercise, people, not a nature walk or Friday night at the bar – it is a serious business, we are here to sweat, to work, to realize how out of shape we are!
But in France, there seems to be a different idea about things. Left to his own devices (read: my not nagging him to death), MB would go hiking in leather driving shoes or even flip-flops* while I won’t even go hiking in jeans (sweating in jeans is pretty much the worst thing of all time). Now, obviously, it’s not as though you won’t see French people dressed in appropriate workout attire, of course, you will but they do not deign to wear it unless they are doing something pretty hardcore.
I remember making a remark to MB once regarding a group of women who we passed on the way up to the Bastille one weekday afternoon.
“I don’t get it,” I said to him. “I mean, did you see what they were wearing?”
The women were in skirts, hose, and slip-on shoes. “How do you exercise in that?”
“Ouaaaaaaais,” he had responded, between panting breaths. “But they aren’t really exercising, just taking a walk.”
I looked at him like he was crazy as I wiped sweat out of my eyes. Weren’t we on the same “walk” as these chicks? Why did we look like we were in the first stages of a stroke while they waltzed blithely by? Is there some magical European trick in which you can decide whether or not you will exert yourself regardless of the terrain?
I pondered this as we continued the hike up the mountain, happy that I had on my sports bra and wasn’t sweating into the padding (yeah, it’s like that) of one of my nice Victoria’s Secret ones. I mean, I can just imagine how this would go down in an American workplace:
Coworker: Hey Mike, where are you going for lunch?
Mike: Actually, I think I’m going to climb that mountain outside the office and have lunch up there.
Coworker: What? Right now?
Coworker: But…I don’t…I mean, did you plan to do that?
Mike: Nah, but it seems like a nice idea.
Coworker: Mike, you can’t just decide to hike a mountain.
Mike: Why not? It’s there, it has a trail.
Coworker: But…what are you going to wear? You can’t wear your suit!
Mike: Oh sure I can, do you want to join me?
Coworker: No thanks…I’ve got a session at the gym with a personal trainer after work…(then under his breath)…like a normal person.
Mike: Suit yourself!
Mike waves and then leave the room.
Coworker: Geez, I hope Mike isn’t having some sort of mental breakdown or spiritual crisis…maybe I should call his therapist.
In the meantime at a French office…
Colleague: Bonjour Michel, you are going to the canteen for lunch today? They are serving Tartiflette!
Michel: Non, merci, I’m actually on my way to meet a personal trainer for a session.
Colleague: Ah ouais, pourquoi? You have an injury or you are training for an event?
Michel: No, no, just to exercise.
Colleague: Mais, quoi? Why is it you need to pay someone to exercise?
Michel: I don’t know, it is nice and organized. I have a definite start and finish time, I’ve got the showers and all the equipment, you know.
Colleague: Bah non, I do not know. To me, this sounds cree-zee. You want to exercise, go outside like a normal person! (A French person would not bother saying this under their breath) You know, Michel, there is a mountain right there!
The Colleague points out the window towards the Bastille and Michel just shrugs.
Michel: Still, I am off to the gym.
Michel leaves the room.
Colleague: And he doesn’t even stay for Tartiflette…pfff…incroyable. He must secretly have a very bad injury and is trying to hide it. I must discuss this with everyone over lunch in the canteen.
I look back at my well-dressed friend and sigh, I suppose I will forever be the type to “miss the tartiflette,” ensuring that I am always prepared for any potential physical exertion; and I can’t help but worry that in doing so, perhaps I am losing out on the joys that come with having a spontaneous moment in nature. I mean, is it really so awful if I sweat a bit in clothing that won’t automatically whisk it away from my skin? Am I so precious that I can’t get a little grime on my feet or dirt under my bra straps?
“MERDE!” My friend shouts and I turn around to see what has happened.
Thick, wet mud is oozing out of her black flat and she is flailing about as the miniature swamp beneath her foot threatens to swallow the shoe entirely.
I answer my own questions: yes.
*In my original post I had a bit in here about rate of incline but I am too moronic at math and had it incorrect so I have removed it…and all references to numbers which is wise because they just confuse me.
** I am not exaggerating. I have seen him go on hikes wearing flip-flops.