So the holidays are over and it is back to school. This means that once more, the Higginson household is at the mercy of all the various bugs that are circulating throughout the country. I’d never had many stomach upsets until I moved to France. The French like to blame the water quality but I have my doubts. After all, we live in Dax not downtown Dakar. I think it has more to do with the French attitude to personal hygiene. They love to talk about ‘l’hygiene de la vie,’ but seem less keen to put any of the suggested measures into practice.
Their attitude to washing is at best, ambivalent. This is the country that brought you the 48 hour deodorant, and the self-deodorising shirt, after all. Yet, in the smallest pharmacy in the smallest village, there will be a huge display of products devoted to washing your ‘bits.’ There is even a new product geared specifically towards girls under ten. The manufacturers suggest that after your daughter has been on a swing or played in a sandpit, any self respecting maman should scoop up said child, remove them to the nearest toilet and wash their bits. Given the state of most public French toilets, I would have thought that you’d be more likely to catch the Black Death than find running water to wash in, but hey, if an expert has suggested this as a course of action, it must be the right thing to do. Go round any French supermarket and along with the piped in smells of fresh baguette, you will also catch the unmistakable whiff of unwashed farmer. Yum. And it’s not just the older generation. My 19 year old next door neighbour never leaves the house without full hair and make up but she often, to put it bluntly, smells. Personally I would go lighter on the slap and a bit heavier on the soap and water.
The water is probably key. Maybe years of metering have left the French reluctant to use it for anything other than essentials - washing the cow and making calvados. In any case, most French school toilets are sadly lacking on the soap and water front. Even the kids orthodontist, has a toilet for the patients to use, complete with no sink. I only hope the orthodontist himself has separate facilities. As we all know, small children are walking germ factories, so putting a loo with no basin in an environment where they are very likely to shove the fingers in their mouths to check out their new braces, seems utterly nuts. But hey, I’m a British mum and I have never dragged my kids off the swings to wash their bits, so what would I know?
So this winter, we will be doing what we can to combat le gastro. I will fill my hip flask with calvados and keep it about my person. It doubles up as smelling salts (to overcome the whiff of unwashed farmer) and acts as an instant hand sanitiser.