Sweating in Jeans Town

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?

Mike shrugs. 

Mike:  Yeah.

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.

21 thoughts on “Sweating in Jeans Town

  1. Brilllliant! As always. So far, I have never seen a French woman sweat. Not even in the Sahara. I’m not kidding.
    PS. I would have gone for the tartiflette.


  2. The French approach can have it’s downsides. See the (misrepresented) details of my French fiancée’s mountain adventures in NZ. For the record: I wasn’t lost.

    Also, it’s 8.5%, not 85%. Also also, a 100% grade is only ‘pretty’ steep – 45 degrees. Hard to walk up, but Spiderman wouldn’t even consider it a hill. Which is totally non-intuitive. Percent grades are weird.


    1. HA – I love this! I was wondering where she was writing these days – happy to see she’s got her column on Stuff.nz. Y’all must be giddy to be back – I was in Welly and Tauranga over Christmas but not enough time to go south…bummer.

      This amused me to death and reminded me of my French husband taking me mushroom hunting around Grenoble with a similar ending (tears…certain death, etc)…he wasn’t lost either.

      (thanks for the math lesson, I took out my previous bit with that in there…math is my mortal enemy)


  3. My BFF who studied medicine and has a PhD and is therefore qualified to say such things once told me that my excessive, disgusting sweating indicated that I was just “healthier than other people” since my body was able to expel toxins more frequently.

    So that’s what I still think about as I wipe rivers of sweat off every inch of my skin whenever I perform even the mildest activity. “I’m healthier than everyone else, I’m healthier than everyone else.” It doesn’t make me feel better but it does make me think everyone else isn’t very healthy.


      1. It’s much worse in the “cheap ballet flats” season for me — at least with sandals there’s some airflow going on to dry the sweat.

        Oh jeez, am I really posting about this in semi-public? We need to found Sweaty Feet Anonymous!


    1. This is excellent news because it must mean that we are both in the pinnacle of health (despite my heart and lung’s fierce protestations). It is an awkward problem to have…although it doesn’t both me as much as it did when I was younger. Now, I’m just like “yep, I got sweaty pits…that is happening!” I’m happy I’m not the only super-sweater out there!


      1. Have you tried Geox sneakers/shoes? Italian brand designed with tiny holes in the soles, and in some ranges on the tops as well, to allow air to circulate around your foot and sweat to evaporate. There is a Geox shop on the rue de Rivoli not far from the Hotel de Ville (though on other side of the road), but sadly they don’t seem to carry the same range as the ones in Milan do. They’re trying to appeal to the French aesthetic so there isn’t much variety in the sneakers. Or many ranges available. My husband loves their stuff and every time we go to Milan he buys lots. I have a few pairs too, very comfortable for walking.


      2. Oooh – I’ll have to check those out for sure! I need something to wear around that is comfy but not too lame. haha! Thanks for the suggestion!


  4. Haha! That’s so funny. I like the role-playing stuff between the different office environments.

    One thing I enjoy is how Americans go on/take ‘hikes’, and the British go on a ‘walk’ or ‘ramble.’ It’s the same thing, but one sounds MUCH more easy and fun. Is it our Protestant work ethic coming out, I wonder?


    1. haha – “idle hands make devil’s work” – I think someone should do a sociological study on this. Why do Americans feel a need to organize their exercise? lol


  5. I really enjoyed this! It is so true, and the perfect way to capture how differently we look at things. And as far as sweating in jeans goes, I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s the worst, THE WORST!


    1. Yeah, I always like finding those little societal differences that seem so small but all combined are what make our cultures so unique! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed!

      UGH. Sweating in jeans…although it occurs to me that there is something worse…sweating in a wool sweater! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  6. This is spot on! I have learnt two things from when I have been away with French colleagues. The annoying lesson is that, no matter how inappropriately my French colleagues seem to be dressed, when it starts to rain they are always the one with the umbrella whilst I just get my practical outfit soaked. The second lesson is that this is achieved by means of an enormous suitcase. I just have a carry on. And I feel this puts me on the moral high ground.


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