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The swimming pool is a blue world of calmness, a place where order should reign and sleek bodies should pass effortlessly through the waters. For me coming from swimming in the UK, the British delight for rules is elevated in this environment. My city pool had signs dictating how to get into the pool, what lanes were open to the public, the required speed for each lane, the direction for swimming in each lane, the style of swimming permitted in each lane. I was also indoctrinated into the unwritten rules that make society function in the pool: let people pass if they are right behind you when you finish a length and are obviously faster than you, and only pass while swimming if there is no other option. The polite thing to do is lightly tap the person’s foot while swimming and they will let you pass at the end of the length. Of course, there will be flare ups of “swim-rage” (the recent research showing that men overestimate their intelligence seems to hold true for their views on their own swimming speed) but everything was very organised and obvious to a beginner.

Having complied with these rules, I was shocked on my first visit to the pool here- and remain confused about how it works. There are no rules- or are there no written rules? In my local swimming pool, I discovered three lanes signed “Publikum”: no indication about speed, direction, type of swimming. That was enough to make me panic. I have encountered many strange situations. Once, I swam in a lane with one other person, both of us swimming up and down happily, before we were joined by a third individual who thought it would be a good idea in such a narrow lane to swim up and down between us occupants. Another time, I observed silent aggression as a man swimming moderately fast in the wider, generally agreed-upon (I think) slow lane was forced out by two old ladies swimming side by side and refusing to move to let him pass. He gave in and got out. I’ve heard tales of people being shouted at in a pool for doing something against these unwritten rules that seem to exist somehow. I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve expected someone to let me pass at the end of the lane and they happily kept on swimming, or the times that people have passed me just before I get to the end of the lane, narrowly avoiding a kick to the head as they tumble turn, leaving me speechless in polite mortification.

So I can’t yet tell you how to swim in Austria. I haven’t worked it out. I’ll just keep my head underwater and hope for the best.


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