It’s been 6 weeks since I left the U.S., and I’ve worked out at a British gym in Greenwich, London, and a French gym, in the suburbs of Paris. I’m going to share my personal observations regarding the differences between a French, a British, and an American gym.
You can tell a lot about cultural habits, from the way people act in a gym. My observations are generalizations, but since I’ve lived in all three countries, I think they are fairly accurate.
French gyms, unlike U.S. gyms are not planned with safety, and ease of use in mind. Since France is not a country where people are likely to sue the gym for accidents, you will find the cleaning crew mopping slippery floors while people are exercising, and electrical cords being pulled while you’re stepping over them. If you fall, “tempis,” (oh, well) that’s your fault, and you’re expected to get up and limp to the next machine.
Don’t be surprised if you hear ‘primal’ screams while working out. This could either be from a man trying to get everyone to stop, stare, and check him out, or from a woman who is being whipped into shape by her personal trainer. Believe me, I heard these screams each time I worked out.
I think men designed the layout of French gyms so they can gawk at women doing pilates, aerobics, or dancing salsa. I’m not kidding! They stand around the edge of the room, like junior high kids at a dance, watching the women.
I don’t think French women lift weights; at least not when I was there. I was the only female in the tiny weight room, and the equipment was so close together that I had to step over weights and trip over men’s feet, to reach the disorganized dumbbell rack. I sensed the chauvinistic attitude of the men, refusing to move, even one inch, to let me squeeze by. Quite unlike the polite British men I encountered at my London gym.
The dumbbells were completely disorganized on the rack, and searching for the matching dumbbell, was akin to a treasure hunt in a tiny closet. Most of the time, someone had walked off with the weight, and kept it under their watchful eye.
I don’t think French men like to share the equipment. I realize this happens in the U.S. from time to time, but in France, it must be a habit carried on from Kindergarten days.
British gyms, once again, I’m generalizing, were more like the U.S. gyms I’m familiar with.
First of all, they have a person at the front desk to check you in. In France, the front desk was often unattended, and I was able to walk in, and not even pay.
The British are so polite, and apologize for not letting you go first, if they happen to walk past you.
I did notice that most British men and women don’t make eye contact in the gym. They simply go about their workout.
The British gyms are clean, and they offer towels, unlike the French gyms, where sweat was dripping onto the equipment.
Once again, just like the French gyms, dumbbells are completely disorganized on the rack.
When I travel to Europe, I find it so interesting how countries that are so close together, can have such different cultures and different behavior patterns. There is more uniformity in the U.S., which is a vast country, but a 24-hour Fitness in California, has the same standards of safety no matter which State you’re in.
U.S. gyms tend to have the latest trends in fashion and equipment.
In California, men and women are more toned and muscular than in French and British gyms.
U.S. gyms seem to be well-planned with more space to workout and several personal trainers with clients.
You have to fill out detailed waivers if you want to workout as a ‘guest’ at a U.S. gym. There seem to be strict rules regarding your health history, (due to lawsuits in the U.S.)
I was not asked once about my health in the British or French gym. I actually prefer the less stringent rules in European gyms.
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Thanks for the write up, made me chuckle a little bit. Never occurred to me that gym’s would be designed differently in diff nations
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Hello Sonia! I enjoyed this post and can relate (American living in France who loves the gym). I liked your point about gyms in France not being built with safety in mind — I’d never considered that but it’s true. No one sues and the waivers are nonexistent!
Here’s my post about French/American gyms:
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Sonia Marsh says
HI Diane, Thanks for your comment. I now serve with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, southern Africa, and have found one modern gym in Maseru, the capital. The only problem is it’s two hours away, so I can only go on Saturdays.