The following is one swim parent’s cultural observations from the pool deck in southern France. It seems that there are just as many similarities as differences between water polo tournaments in France and in the U.S. Please take in to consideration that these are what I saw today and there are always exceptions on both sides of the Atlantic.
1. There is far less parent turnout in France. Only two parents came to watch the games. This may have been for a number of reasons. The tournament was held in Montpellier, which is about an hour drive from Narbonne. There were two parents that drove with the team but then left. Maybe the good shopping in Montpellier proved to be too much of a draw. Also, as I will mention later, the players are generally older, which would explain why their parents weren’t there. Oh, and by the way…even the few parents that were there still thought that that one foul should have been called in favor of their kid! Sound familiar??
2. Here we still carpool, caravan, text and GPS our way to matches. We happened to arrive as a team, already behind schedule, at the wrong pool! This is neither French or American but added to the adventure.
3. In France, or at least in this region, the time/score keeper may enjoy a cigarette from time to time. Oh, and the referee, too. During the game. On deck, that is. If this happened in California, parents would have charged with torches and pitchforks hurling claims of second-hand smoke and a “my kid has asthma” for good measure. In France ce n’est pas grand chose.
4. There are no high school teams really to speak of in France. So, in a smaller club team like ours, there may be a 24-year-old playing against your 13-year-old. It’s good practice for them, I think, but can be kind of daunting at first for the younger kids.
5. Parking can get pretty interesting in France. This morning was unique because there was a flea market right next to the pool. Normally, in the downtown areas in France, parking is at a premium because of the small roads so drivers will therefore park just about anywhere. Sidewalks, planters, and any surface that is generally flat are all fair game. This morning, the market traffic mixed and swirled with the swim meet/water polo traffic to the point where they parked and or stopped around in a circle creating several spirally layers of parking faux pas hell. I thought it was hilarious but I think the coach was annoyed since we were already late! But now we were gridlocked! And then, yes…you guessed it! The honking began. Finally, a gitan or gypsy lady got out of her van but not with the intention of blaming or getting angry at the other drivers. She proceeded to solve the situation by going from car to car and asking what their goal was. Then, she used this knowledge to direct traffic and everybody listened to her. As I was making my exit I clapped and said, “Bravo, Madame!“ She smiled and got back in her van.
6. Yes, the locker rooms are co-ed. In addition to this, at this pool, they wanted everyone to proceed on to the deck aux pieds nus. They had a check-in counter for shoes, even if you weren’t going to swim.
7. The coaches get mad, frustrated and, yes, even shout at their players. No difference here! Even our super easy-going coach got mad and shouted at his players once in a while. In addition, he was playing along in the match with the team. (That one was for you, Ron.)
8. They use a lot of English words in France in the sport of water polo. Words like “pool”, “shoot”, “let’s go, man” and you might possibly hear an occasional “shit” amongst all the merdes and putains.