When you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. Well that’s not exactly correct when you are talking about French washing machines in the laundromats.

Please French people don’t take offence, it’s just that , to wash a small amount of clothing can take I to 2 hours and the directions are so complicated. At home I just open the lid, drop the clothes in and turn on the power. I come back when the noise stops. It must be all about design and the encounter with the unfamiliar.

Anyway, along with showers and toilets, washing machines are right up there with things I don’t understand in foreign countries. For some reason you get convinced you’ve broken the machine but then suddenly they spring into action.

The girls go off for a walk and leave me in charge. They have decided that the dryers are too hot and rough on clothes so we’ll carry the wet load back to the hotel.

Having time on my hands I found some words that might help.

Adoucissant = fabric softener

Assouplissant = fabric softener

Assouplisseur = fabric softener

Lessive = laundry detergent/washing powder

Machine à laver = washing machine

Sèchoir = drying machine

Still more time so here’s a translation of the instructions for washing.

1. Push the button on door handle to open

2. Load drum with clothes

3. Close the loading window carefully

4. Select the water temperature

5. Add detergent, softener to the programme selected

6. Select the programme by pressing the button.

This next bit they don’t tell you too clearly.

Run to control on other wall where you realize that only notes of : 5€ – 10€ – 20€ are accepted and that the detergent and dryers: only accept coins of 10₵ – 20₵ – 50₵ – 1€ – 2€ which is great,  but the ATM’s dish out 50€ or 100€ notes.

For Payment:

1. Prepare your washer

2. On the keypad, press the number of your washer

3. Pay the amount indicated on the screen, and take your change

Of course you don’t have the correct change or a container to catch the detergent that spills out of an automatic dispenser on the other wall.

It all becomes too much and your feminine side wants to break out in tears,  but you can’t because the laundromat is full of women who are watching your every move. Eventually you pull yourself together and it all works out.

You then settle down to read the magazines which you realise are in French. But, what the heck, just pretend you can read in a foreign language, and anyway pictures  are the same in any language.

The women leave and you are on your own.  A peace overcomes the laundromat.

I was somewhere around page 40 at the beginning of a story on Brad and Angelina when from the edge of the square a gaggle of would-be-washer-women begin to come into view.

I saw them before I heard them, then my peace is broken by a group of mid to late thirty year-old American women who have come to do their washing.

It turns out that washing in a foreign country is not an inborn skill that all women have and soon I realized that they knew even less than what I knew. Soon panic breaks out and pandemonium has taken over at the laundromat.

Before all is lost, the black volley comes to the rescue and teachers them everything he had learned just 30 minutes earlier.

On the way home just across the rue from the Laundromat, we see two pair of shoes. Are they abandoned? are they lost? are they begging or are they street performers doing mime? or is it that I am black and they are white. Why are they gawking at me?

I can’t tell if they’re UK 11, US 12, European 45.5 or Japan 30. Maybe they just want to come back to Australia with me.

Finally I adopt the no eye contact strategy and the three of us, with wet clothes stuffed into our plastic bags, give them a wide berth and retreat back to the hotel to take part in the local custom of hanging laundry from the side of your building.



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