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Posts Tagged ‘SS France’

 

savon

The most popular soap in France, an olive oil-based one, came from Marseille

 

In Jacques Takes a Bath, posted here in October 2014, the American humorist Irvin S. Cobb sank his teeth into the French reluctance to bathe. Although exaggerated to the point of absurdity,  Cobb’s article had a grain of truth in it. Bathing was not central in the mind of the ancestors and the history of the bathroom is a very recent one. The air in public places was not always filled with deodorant fragrances. Quite the contrary, the 19th-century streets were pungent with horse dung and various unmentionable odors emanating from many of the passers-by.

The French being French, they do find in their vocabulary something glamorous for the simplest or lowest of things and occurrences. Thus, a mole is the grain of beauty (le grain de beauté), les Petits Pois Bonne Femme is French for peas with butter and la crise de foie (the liver crisis) is a dramatic euphemism for indigestion. By the same token, the body odor becomes l’odeur du sable chaud. The scent of hot sand. We can’t beat the French at the savoir vivre, can we?

bidet

The bidet

The Americans visiting Europe justly complained about the lack of modern comfort but, to be fair, the French had their bidets to stay clean where it counted. The sight of the bidet as part of the bathroom furniture scandalized the Anglo-Saxon Puritans. The luxury cruise ship Le France, built in 1957 (yes, there were still Puritans in 1957!) for carrying passengers between Le Havre and New York, remained bidet-less for the very reason.

The first bathrooms—that is rooms fully devoted to personal hygiene—appeared at the beginning of the century but they remained the privilege of the very rich for the next one hundred years. The discovery of harmful microbes by Louis Pasteur accelerated the shift toward better personal care.  Toward the end of the century, the idea of a fully equipped bathroom entered the advertising business.

 

sdb

This ad offers a complete bathroom equipment starting at 250 francs. For this price, you would get a bathtub, a sink, a water tank, a foot bath, a sitting bath and a Scotch shower

 

 

sdb2

Dating from the turn-of-the-century, this ad humorously conceives the bathroom as a luxury reception room

 

We can hardly imagine life without a bathroom, but this state of things remained a reality for many Europeans well into the 20th century.

 

Related post:

The French Art of Peeing without Getting Wet Feet

 

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