If you’re a casual swim enthusiast, you have likely not run into many rules or restrictions about what you can or cannot wear while swimming. Most of your swimming experiences have likely been a fun free-for-all.
If you’re planning a European getaway this summer, you may run into some unique rules regarding swimming pool and beach usage. In order to minimize the inconvenience of arriving at a swimming pool or beach ill-prepared, we’ve put together this helpful resource that covers the dos and don’ts of European swim etiquette and why some swimming venues enforce these strict rules.
An emphasis on cleanliness
At the root of European pool restrictions is the goal of maintaining a healthy environment for pool guests. Ideally, this empowers guests to enjoy their time swimming, splashing and sunbathing, with a significantly reduced risk of spreading germs. The World Health Organization released its guidelines for safe recreational water environments Volume 2, which focuses on swimming pools and similar environments. In this report, you’ll find a number of bacterial and viral infections that are commonly spread in public pools. Utilizing this knowledge, many European countries and cities have established best practices for limiting the potential for outbreaks.
The result is still a very similar pool going experience to how things are in the states, but with heavier up-front requirements. One main theme that is universal across Europe is the expectation, if not requirement, that all swimmers will shower before entering the pool, rather than only showering after you are done swimming. The key benefit to this is that it eliminates many of the surface level germs and dirt from the swimmers before they enter the pool. Swimmers then have the option to rinse off after the fact if they so desire. This can significantly reduce the potential for outbreaks of rashes and other illnesses.
Another effort that some European areas enforce to keep their pools clean is to restrict swimmers from entering the pool area with “street clothing”. This can include longer swim trunks, which are sometimes considered “streetwear” by lifeguards. Some pools even sell appropriate swimwear in vending machines so that unprepared visitors can still swim. Yes, this means Speedos and bikinis!
Can this be a bit annoying for US tourists? Of course. However, going in with the right expectation and understanding the reasoning behind cultural customs and local practices can mitigate your frustrations. You may actually find it encouraging that you are entering a cleaner public pool than the one back home.
The typical European pool experience
- Leave your shoes at the door – Right from the start, you may be asked to leave your outdoor shoes on the designated “shoe bench” before even entering the locker room. Guests are encouraged to either put on a separate pair of swim-specific shoes, place plastic coverings over their shoes or go barefoot. This allows those that are barefoot to go in and out of the locker room without tracking dirt to the pool area and/or inside the pool.
- Pre-swim bathing – A heavy use pool could be filled with dozens, if not hundreds, of guests at a given time. Guests will be expected to clean themselves before entering the pool.
- Wearing the proper swimwear – While tiny racing trunks (“Speedos”) aren’t required swimwear for all European pools, some will require a much more tiny garment for men and boys than popularly worn in the US. Most facilities will restrict guests from wearing t-shirts, dresses or bottoms that aren’t specifically designated for swim-use.
All of the above are designed to limit the number of dirt, contaminants and germs carried into the pool space.
What to expect at the beach
No European trip is complete without a trip to the beach! Whether you’re in the UK, Spain, France, Italy or Greece, there are any number of idyllic beach locations to spend a day that you won’t soon forget. Here are a few notes to help you maximize your European beach retreat:
- Not all European beaches are sans clothing – There may be a higher percentage of nude beaches in Europe than there are in the US, but it is unwise to assume that a given beach is nude-friendly.
- Expect women of all ages and sizes to be wearing bikinis – One thing that is very common in European beaches is for women to wear two-piece bikinis rather than one-piece swimsuits. So, regardless of your age or comfort with your body, understand that the beaches in Europe are judgment-free zones.
- Clothing restrictions are less prevalent – In the ocean, the water is so massive and ever-changing that the risk for the spread of germs is less likely than a public pool. That being said, you will still likely see more tiny racing pants than in the states. Many men are already comfortable wearing shorter trunks, making it less necessary to own a different style of swimwear for the beach.
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