It’s difficult to imagine a topless sunbather in the middle of London’s Hyde Park. Yet, chances are that the woman of a certain age in the striped deck chair, enjoying a cup of tea and Penguin Classic, had them out on her last holiday to the Med. No matter what you look like, bikinis with easily removable tops are the suit of choice to most. Breasts are everywhere – big ones, small ones, saggy ones fake ones, young ones and old ones. It is relativity easy to spot the British travellers this way, as it’s been a year since their last holiday and so a year since their breasts have seen the light of day. It can be quite blinding.
I suppose it’s easy to get sucked into the whole idea when everyone is doing it. Americans would first have to rid themselves of an ingrained prudishness, which is often looked at as a character asset. In contrast, the British are also a bit prudish but see it as a negative trait, thus compensate by getting their breasts out on holiday. Seems reasonable.
As an American, who’s nearest (warm) beaches happen to be in the Mediterranean, this leaves me in a tricky place. I always seem to forget the nudity norm and show up with a new suit that leaves me feeling like I’d be less conspicuous in a prom dress. I must admit I have done it once. I found a beautiful, quiet little spot on a walk one morning. It wasn’t a beach so no crowds. It was a rocky cove with a step ladder that dropped me into the deep crystal blue Mediterranean. After a glorious swim in the warm salty waters I climbed out onto my rock and basked in the sun feeling perfectly alone and a bit smug. How European was I?
Moments later I was startled awake by a horn. I looked up to see a boat, of ferry like proportions, full of tourists with cameras and binoculars. I lay there frozen listening to the commentary from the tour guide being told over a loudspeaker. Brilliant. Apparently, it wasn’t such a private cove after all. It was quite famous. I thought that scurrying for my top and running off would attract more attention so I sat there and pretended I knew the boat was coming all along. I often still wonder if my breasts are in some stranger’s holiday’s photos. It’s entirely possible.
I’m not sure what makes the British so willing to step so far out their comfort zone for two weeks out of the year. Maybe it’s just down to the excitement over seeing the sun and feeling warm enough to not need clothes. Or maybe they are just more cosmopolitan than us. Some like to think so but I’m not so sure. There are plenty of Brits that head abroad each year on a package holiday where they may never leave the hotel. It’s not about the place as much as it’s about the sun. Americans are often given are hard time for not owning passports. Only 20% have them, allegedly. But the truth is that we don’t need them for a once a year trip to the beach like the British do. There is Cornwall and Devon, true, but you aren’t guaranteed the warm weather and water there. You have to have a passport for that. British beach holidays consist of families huddled together behind wind breakers emerging for lunch and ice-cream. For those brave enough to actually get in the water most are wearing wetsuits. Nudity is rare. We went to Cornwall and Wales last year and I didn’t get in the water once.
I love having my passport but our holidays are hardly out to the ordinary. We go to the beach with the kids just like we’d do if we lived in the US. The sea of choice is usually the Mediterranean or the ‘Med’, which sounds insanely glamorous , and certainly can be, but more often than not it’s full of pretty normal, albeit topless, people . No George Clooney sightings. A trip to Spain, a popular holiday destination, would take the average English person about as long as a trip to Florida from Georgia. It’s not far. It is however, worlds apart.
Maybe one year I’ll get the balance right – but I doubt it. I’m the American in the tankini, wearing SPF 35 and a big hat. We are thinking of going to Florida next year where I’ll fit right in. I can only be grateful that I don’t have a continental husband who wears a speedo. Thank God for that or I don’t think I’d ever be able to set foot on an American beach again.