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Bare necessities: The rules for taking your clothes off in France

France is known for its topless sunbathers and nudist resorts. But it isn't just a simple case of getting your kit off willy-nilly, there are some rules you need to abide by. Here's what you need to know about getting naked the French way.

Bare necessities: The rules for taking your clothes off in France
Photo: AFP
It's not just beaches where you're likely to find groups of people going au naturel in public in France. 
In fact for a brief period Paris even had a nudist restaurant, although that closed after 15 months die to a lack of custom, and in August 2017, Parisian nudists were finally given a spot to take it all off – at a secluded zone in the Bois de Vincennes park east of the city.
And with the places to get naked on the rise in France, it's a good idea to familiarise yourself with the rules that govern baring all in public. 
“The first rule for any naturist is to respect other people,” Jacques Freeman of the Association for the Promotion of Naturism in Liberty (APNEL) tells The Local. “And it's really important not to be confrontational about your choice to be nude, for example if your neighbours don't like you sunbathing naked in the garden.”
“There is no law against being naked in public in France – there is a law against disturbing the public order which means you'd probably be arrested if you walked into a church naked, for example,” he says. 
“If you're walking in a forest naked and you come across people who are shocked or surprised by it then you should cover up and, if you have a chance, talk to them about it.” 
Photo: AFP
Freeman also stressed that there can be misunderstandings on both sides of the divide, with some naturists against the fact that you can be clothed in naturist areas, such as beaches. 
Naturism, Freeman says, is primarily about allowing people in society to accept each other for their differences, for example religion or skin colour. 
Nevertheless, he added that when it comes to getting naked in France, there are some rules you will want to follow to avoid being yelled at by beachgoers.
Here's our list of what you need to know before getting naked in France. 
Going topless
Even though it's fine for women to be topless on most public beaches in France, it's not accepted everywhere. 
Touristy spots along the Riviera and Atlantic coast are good bets, and it's also worth noting that for reasons ranging from skin cancer to creepy guys, French women aren't quite so willing to take off their bikini tops in public. 
If in doubt, it's a good idea to check out the rules at public beaches and ask the locals what's acceptable.
Going bottomless
If you're someone who's willing to go completely au naturel in France, then you'll need to do a bit more homework. 
Being completely naked is accepted on certain stretches of isolated public sand and on designated nudist beaches or colonies like the famous Cap d'Agde in the south of France. 
So please don't slip your shorts or skirts off in the midst of the beach crowd just because you're in France. 
Photo: AFP
Be respectful
As Jacques Freeman of the Association for the Promotion of Naturism in Liberty (APNEL) tells us, it's important to be respectful of others. 
Of course, the sight of unclothed flesh on the beach can be a bit of an eye-catcher for the uninitiated, but it's bad form to take photos without asking first, or to stare or point. 
It sounds like common sense, but to many foreign visitors, especially from the UK or the United States, attractive people in public without much (or any) clothing can be something of a novelty. 
Also for the gentlemen 'sans culottes' who find themselves a bit too excited by the spectacle, please consider covering up or going for a swim, or you could land yourself in trouble.
You don't have to get completely naked
At the vast majority of French beaches clothing is mandatory, though topless women bathers are generally tolerated too. 
But if you end up on a designated nudist beach it is OK to keep your clothes on, though there are some high-profile exceptions like the so-called ‘naked city' naturist colony in Cap d'Agde in south-western France. There they'll tell you you have to get naked on the beach.
Naturist holiday centres
There's a wide selection of naturist resorts in France and most have their own set of rules when it comes to getting naked. 
In holiday centres, wearing clothes is tolerated in some situations, for example if the weather isn't as hot as you'd hoped or participating in some sporting activities.
It's best to contact the centre you're thinking of visiting to find out its policies. 

But nudity is generally the norm when the temperature permits and usually required near swimming pools and bathing places.
Photo: AFP
Naked hiking
Some nudists in France enjoy straying from the beach to go for a scenic walk. While there is no law forcing you to keep your clothes on while on footpaths, several naturists have been fined in the past. 
Freeman told The Local anyone wanting to go for a naked hike should “keep a low profile” and be prepared to put on clothes when they come into contact with people, to “avoid any confrontation”.
Paris parks 
Strictly it is banned to be naked in a Paris park unless you make a special trip to a designated naturist area. 
In fact even bathing suits should not be worn in official city parks and, according to the official rules, dress should be “decent and in accordance with good morals and public order.”
And those caught wearing inappropriate clothing face fines of up to €38 euros, police say.

But even though you aren't supposed to sunbathe topless, that doesn't mean you won't see people doing it. 
Wear sunscreen
Whether you're just dropping your top or going for the full monty, some tender parts of your anatomy, which aren't used to so much sunlight, are going to get a hefty dose of ultraviolet rays. 
This might sound obvious, put please don't forget to slap on the sun cream. If you think a sunburned back hurts, just wait and see how unpleasant too much daylight is on your more sensitive areas. 
Photo: AFP
And be warned, “cooler” parts of the country like Brittany where beaches might be covered in cloud or hit by strong winds can be deceptive. 
The sun can be just as cruel in the north-west as it can be on the Riviera, if not worse.

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For members


Five signs you’ve settled into life in Switzerland

Getting adjusted to Swiss ways is not always easy for foreign nationals, but with a lot of perseverance it can be done. This is how you know you’ve assimilated.

Five signs you've settled into life in Switzerland
No lint: Following laundry room rules is a sign of integration in Switzerland. Photo by Sara Chai from Pexels

Much has been said about Switzerland’s quirkiness, but when you think about it, this country’s idiosyncrasies are not more or less weird than any other nation’s — except for the fact that they are expressed in at least three languages which, admittedly, can complicate matters a bit.

However, once you master the intricacies and nuances of Swiss life, you will feel like you belong here.

This is when you know you’ve “made it”.

You speak one of the national languages, even if badly

It irritates the Swiss to no end when a foreigner, and particularly an English-speaking foreigner, doesn’t make an effort to learn the language of a region in which he or she lives, insisting instead that everyone communicates to them in their language.

So speaking the local language will go a long way to being accepted and making you feel settled in your new home.

You get a Swiss watch and live by it

Punctuality is a virtue here, while tardiness is a definite no-no.

If you want to ingratiate yourself to the Swiss, be on time. Being even a minute late  may cause you to miss your bus, but also fail in the cultural integration.

‘The pleasure of punctuality’: Why are the Swiss so obsessed with being on time?

Using an excuse like “my train was late” may be valid in other countries, but not in Switzerland.

The only exception to this rule is if a herd of cows or goats blocks your path, causing you to be late.

A close-up of a Rolex watch in Switzerland.

Owning a Rolex is a sure sign you’re rich enough to live in Switzerland. Photo by Adam Bignell on Unsplash

You sort and recycle your trash

The Swiss are meticulous when it comes to waste disposal and, not surprisingly, they have strict regulations on how to throw away trash in an environmentally correct manner.

Throwing away all your waste in a trash bag without separating it first — for instance, mixing PET bottles with tin cans or paper — is an offence in Switzerland which can result in heavy fines, the amount of which is determined by each individual commune.

In fact, the more assiduous residents separate every possible waste item — not just paper, cardboard, batteries and bottles (sorted by colour), but also coffee capsules, yogurt containers, scrap iron and steel, organic waste, carpets, and electronics.

In fact, with their well-organised communal dumpsters or recycling bins in neighbourhoods, the Swiss have taken the mundane act of throwing out one’s garbage to a whole new level of efficiency.

So one of the best ways to fit in is to be as trash-oriented as the Swiss.

READ MORE: Eight ways you might be annoying your neighbours (and not realising it) in Switzerland

You trim your hedges with a ruler

How your garden looks says a lot about you.

If it’s unkempt and overgrown with weeds, you are clearly a foreigner (though likely not German or Austrian).

But if your grass is cut neatly and your hedges trimmed with military-like precision (except on Sundays), and some of your bushes and shrubs are shaped like poodles,  you will definitely fit in.

You follow the laundry room rules

If you live in an apartment building, chances are there is a communal laundry room in the basement that is shared by all the residents.

As everything else in Switzerland, these facilities are regulated by a …laundry list of “dos” and “don’ts” that you’d well to commit to memory and adhere to meticulously.

These rules relate to everything from adhering to the assigned time slot to removing lint from the dryer.

Following each rule to the letter, and not trying to wash your laundry in someone else’s time slot, is a sign of successful integration.

Voilà, the five signs you are “at home” in Switzerland.

READ MORE: French-speaking Switzerland: Seven life hacks that will make you feel like a local