No Food, No Pets, No Bermuda Trunks at the Pool

No Food, No Pets, No Bermuda Trunks at the Pool
Photo Credit: Herbert Hanreich

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This summer, Europe did not only experience an unprecedented wave of migrants from various war regions seeking asylum in safer countries; it also experienced an extreme and unusual heat wave lasting for weeks with temperatures beyond 38 C. My hometown, Vienna, where I stayed this summer was also victimized by those extreme temperatures that reduce mobility to a minimum during daytime. The problem we have with such a climate in Europe is analogous to the one people have in Taiwan in winter: Europeans lack of air conditioners protecting against the heat, whereas Taiwanese lack of heating devices protecting against the cold.

What do people do in Vienna (or in other cities) in such weather during their free time? Well, life goes on, of course. But usually many of those who decide to stay in the city go to one of the many public or private swimming pools. The city of Vienna alone operates nearly twenty outdoor swimming pools, often generously located on the hills in the outer districts surrounding the city center, offering sometimes a nice view of the capital.

I have been to several pools in Vienna this summer, just like I have previously been to several public pools in Kaohsiung and Taipei. Comparing how people behave – or are allowed to behave – in pools here and there, you can discover quite a few differences; pools are good places to observe cultural habits.

Generally, rules for Europe’s pools are more easy-going than in Taiwan. There is more freedom for swimmers in Western pools, whereas many, sometimes unnecessary rules and cultural restrictions are governing the behavior in Taiwan’s pools. Here a few, sometimes subjective, observations.

Let me begin with an experience I had in a pool in Taipei more than a decade ago; I was not aware at that time that it was not exceptional. On a hot day in summer I went to a small, quite nice pool and sat down at its rim, feet dangling in the water and ready to jump into it. Within moments a lifeguard came to me, politely telling me (in good English) that my behavior was in multiple conflicts with the local bathing rules.

First problem: my Bermuda trunks. It is not allowed, he told me, to swim in such clothes, for hygienic reasons; they could be dirty, because they could have been also worn outside the pool. Then he referred to my second misdemeanor: I didn’t have a cap – hygienic reasons again, he told me, oblige me to wear such head covers in public pools. And, finally, he objected my sitting on the rim: also this was against the rules, he told me. Inquiring the rationale of such a rule, he answered me that in case I would suddenly lose my consciousness I could fall into the water and subsequently drown – hence the precautionary measure.


After a short pause I asked him to repeat what he just told me, and he did so with a slightly increased level of insistence while quoting the relevant rules he apparently had memorized. Unsurprisingly, he was not too amused when I told him that the most efficient way to prevent people from drowning in a pool is to remove the water from it. As for the trunks I hinted at him that any swimming suit could be dirty, including the locally preferred tight ones (why must they always be black?!) which, by the way, somehow indecently reveal what they are supposed to hide. And the hygienic effect of bathing caps, which are never pleasant to wear, is rather questionable, especially when swimmers have short hair. No argument could shake his rule-abiding beliefs.

(The very same hygiene-caring lifeguard, by the way, finished working soon after our encounter and swam leisurely at his workplace. Whenever he reached the end of the pool, he stopped. He then produced a porcine noise and, audibly and visibly for others, spat into the little drainage placed along the pool under small bars before he continued swimming – a very common habit here in Taiwan’s pools, not necessarily designed to increase the pleasure of swimming.)

As far as I know, the rules mentioned above are still enforced in most pools in Taiwan. In Austria or in Germany, we don’t have such rules: sitting at pool rims is very popular – you cool your feet as you bask in the sun; caps are worn only by old ladies who do not want to wet their hair; and Bermuda shorts are dominating the central landscape of male bodies, being more suitable for the pursuit of other activities public pools usually offer (football, volleyball, bars, cafés and so on).

Photo Credit: Herbert Hanreich

Photo Credit: Herbert Hanreich

But at the end it’s up to you what you wear and where you sit – as long as you don’t bother others (topless girls, also present in our pools, are not really bothering others). You can even wear goggles if you wish to look like an alien. But unlike in Taiwan, nearly nobody uses them in Europe. I wonder why most swimmers in Taiwan wear goggles. For health reasons, as many claim? If that were a good reason, then they should also stop with excessive text messaging, the national sport among young people here which is eye damaging indeed.

Swimming in Europe is more a leisure activity as compared to Taiwan where you always can see several swimmers at a time ‘working’ in water. They mechanically swim from one end of the pool to the other in freestyle for a long time without ever lifting their head, and when they stop swimming, they immediately leave the pool: end of work. One is always tempted to tell them to take it easy.

Photo Credit: Herbert Hanreich

Photo Credit: Herbert Hanreich

Female swimmers here seem to be unaware of the invention of bikinis. First I thought they forgot to change their clothes when I saw them in bathing suits that were à la mode some hundred years ago. I do not wish to sound macho, but in my opinion, the girls in Taiwan, on average, have less reason to hide their bodies than their European counterparts, the latter obviously being too often fascinated by delicious chocolate cakes or fried Schnitzels, a fascination which usually does not aesthetically go well with the tiny pieces of textile they quite frequently – and unsuitably – wear in European pools.

Sunshine, Taiwan’s girls’ and ladies’ heaven-sent enemy regarding their struggle to retain a milky skin color does not make it easy for them to be at ease in outdoor pools; hence the popularity of swimming in late afternoons or in indoor pools– a typical example of culture restricting (a sort of) freedom. Europeans, in stark contrast, are sun worshippers, a habit which, however, sometimes becomes somehow pathetic (and unhealthy) when for instance lying in sunshine for hours like drying fish. There is always a middle way.

I have been often annoyed by the opening policy of public pools here in Taiwan. There are usually three or four unlinked time sections per day, limiting the continuous usage of the pool accordingly. Like at traditional wedding ceremonies you are thrown out after a few hours, that is, after a time section ends. Of course you may return for the next time section – if you have enough time to wait until the break is over. Public outdoor pools in Europe are run differently. They are continuously open from morning to evening. People can stay there leisurely the whole day, and many do so.

Recreational activities, like many others, are dominated here in Taiwan by too many rules which neglect – under the cover of public safety – individual responsibility and personal style. In this aspect, swimming habits in Taiwan are mirroring the local culture. There is too much ‘goggling’ going on; with goggles you see much better under water, but much worse when looking at the rest of the world!

Edited by Olivia Yang