Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Don't Blame Americans For Being Fat. But The Swiss Have No Excuse.

Ok, Yodelers. The Frau has determined that how a culture takes care of their pools and how they swim in these pools says a lot.

As she wrote in Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, Swiss people are hard to swim in a pool with. For some reason, every person in a Swiss pool can’t wait to swim right into your space. The Frau was always having collisions with people when she swam in Swiss pools. 

It’s so interesting, because an American pool can be very crowded with swimmers, but somehow no one runs into one another. Maybe everyone is more polite in the U.S. Or maybe they have more sensitivity to personal space. Or maybe they’re just more worried about lawsuits. The Frau is not sure what it is, but Americans are much more pleasant to swim with.

A crowded, but pristine Swiss pool
But, on the flip side, American pools are not pleasant. American pools, when they're actually open and accessible, are very dirty by Swiss standards (but then again, so is the entire world). In Switzerland, pools are cleaned at least every three weeks. The Frau is convinced that the pool she swims at in her American town is maybe cleaned once a year. That’s being generous, Yodelers. It’s really gross, but there aren’t many options other than gross unless you want to pay the price of a small mortgage every month to swim at a private club.

Unfortunately, recreational facilities are, like everything else in the U.S., up to Swiss standards only if you are willing to pay obscene amounts of money–and possibly drive miles to get to them. Unlike in Switzerland where spotless examples of recreational facilities are everywhere and for everyone, recreation is only for the well-to-do in America and only if you are lucky to live in a location where they exist. Everyone else is fat and without options.

It’s quite sad that Americans don’t invest in recreational facilities like the Swiss do. (But then again, American governments don't invest in much of anything except themselves and war these days…roads, public transport, schools…everything is suffering…why not recreational facilities too?)

So. Can you blame Americans for being overweight? If it costs four times the amount to go to a decent pool in the U.S. as it does in Switzerland (even more if you consider that most Americans make less money than the Swiss), maybe we shouldn’t blame Americans for being fat. Maybe we should blame the lack of investment in public recreational facilities instead.

What do you think?


woollythinker said...

I think you're spot on about the availability and quality of facilities having a major effect on health – also the way many US cities are (I believe; I've never been) designed in such a way that it's extremely hard to get around on foot, or bike, or using public transport (which also means walking).

But I wish you hadn't framed and headlined it in terms of fat blaming. Fat is a complicated issue and exercise, while relevant, is only a tiny part of the story. Saying a fat person who happens to have access to clean pools has "no excuse" is pretty hurtful. This isn't about me btw; I'm only a little bit fat and I know exactly how much of that is my fault. I'm just sick of the insulting and counterproductive discourse around size.

Sorry – this might be my first comment on your blog and it's so negative! I really enjoy your perspective. Apologies for delurking only to complain.

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Anonymous said...

I'm a swimmer who has lived in Switzerland and the U.S. I agree about pool hygiene. We Americans often harp on the "American standard of cleanliness" but we don't actually pay much attention to the grunge and dirt in our pools, public restrooms, and sadly, even hospitals.

In terms of water cleanliness, let's pause to look at all water resources in the U.S. and Switzerland - not just swimming pools. Rivers and lakes are pristine in Switzerland. Water purification and waste management are at the forefront. Nothing goes in or out of Swiss water plants and reserves without being treated.

Once accustomed to facilities in Switzerland, it is difficult to return to the U.S. and comprehend our American obliviousness - even disdain - to the importance of supporting basic infrastructures. The Frau is right to point out the problem. My feeling is that she uses pool hygiene as a tiny indicator of a far greater problem in our country.

And I agree with the woolythinker reader that weight issues are complex and go beyond swimming. Certainly obesity and its health problems are a problem in the U.S. though they are also growing across Europe, including Switzerland. However, pool hygiene as a symbol points out what is important to the Swiss and what is not important to Americans. Not many Swiss or Americans swim regularly, but the Swiss have accessible public transportation, walking/hiking trails, bike paths, and a culture that supports daily exercise in natural ways that fit normal daily life. Their health and fitness are greatly enhanced. Walking a few extra minutes to the tram is part of everyday life - not an inconvenience. Adjusting our local/state/federal budgets to invest in infrastructures and expanding the availability and quality of public facilities may have a positive impact on our waistlines (for our children also!), provide jobs, and curb pollution as we unclog our roads filled with cars carrying single individuals on their way to work.

The Frau's comments are always insightful, and once again, she hit the bullseye. Perhaps awareness will grow in the future, and my lap pool will be cleaned more than its usual twice yearly!

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Have you been to the Pacific Northwest? I moved to the Seattle area one year ago after spending 6 years in Switzerland. Every time I read your blog posts about your new perspective on the US it seems to me that you are talking about a different country. People here love the outdoors, there are endless hiking opportunities, excellent parks and diverse activities for the little ones, lakes everywhere, mountains nearby, excellent food... Maybe you should check it out ;-)

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:) In my eyes, American has nice body, oh the model, actor, and many yound men in America go to the gym regularly (at least I see in social network) I don't think American fat :p I think most of people won'y care much about the water in the pool till there are some report about it or someone tell how dirty the pool in a place is in Facebook.
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