Sunday, December 27, 2015

No lifeguard on duty!

This morning, one of Bill's friends posted a picture of their cute little girls enjoying an indoor swimming pool.  The girls are absolutely adorable, so they alone should have been enough to capture my attention.  What I actually noticed first, though, were the walls around the pool.  I could only see two of them, but they were heavily adorned with huge warning signs.

The first sign says in huge, bold letters:

WARNING: NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY.  No swimming alone.  Children under 14 years of age and non-swimmers shall not use the pool unless accompanied by a responsible adult.

The next sign says...

MAXIMUM POOL BATHER LOAD 15.

Another sign says...

WARNING!  NO DIVING!  

I'm sure the "no diving" sign is posted because the water is probably only four feet deep or so...  It's hard to find an "old school" deep pool in America anymore.  Luckily, they are everywhere in Europe.

Easily visible in the photo, there is also a long list of pool rules in type too small for me to make out, but I guess they cover everything not already covered in the big signs.  I see another sign that looks like a crude picture of food and beverage crossed out.

Now, had Bill and I not recently gone swimming alone in an Austrian beer pool, maybe these signs wouldn't seem so over the top to me.  When I lived in the United States, I saw these kinds of anti-litigation signs everywhere and never thought much of them.  Now that I live in Europe again and have walked along the sides of ponds with no protective fencing and observed children walking and riding their bikes alone in our neighborhood, the signs seem strange.  At some point, Americans surrendered their common sense and businesses and insurance companies became hyperaware of the need for warnings.  Seems like this wasn't the case when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s.

Before anyone mentions it, I don't think Stella Liebeck, the lady who spilled hot coffee from McDonald's, is necessarily to blame for this hyperwarning society we have right now.  For one thing, Stella Liebeck was well within her rights to sue McDonald's.  They sold her coffee that was way hotter than the industry standard.  Yes, she stupidly put it between her thighs so she could add cream and sugar, but the coffee was so hot that it gave her serious burns that affected her for the rest of her life.  Moreover, she had originally only asked McDonald's for about $10,000 to cover her medical bills.  They offered $800.  She sued and a jury awarded her big money, most of which she never got.

On the other hand, it does seem like since the big 90s era McDonald's hot coffee case, Americans have gotten a lot more interested in disclaimers that cover every possible scenario that could come up and lead to a lawsuit.  I would expect a similar attitude in Germany, where people seem similarly prone to litigation.  And yet, when I go swimming at the Mineraltherme, I don't see humongous signs posted warning about what's not allowed or what could happen while floating in the pools full of many peeing patrons and face suckers (sorry, but it's the truth).  I don't even see signs warning me that I might see nudity, not that that's dangerous per se, but what will the children think?  ;-)

I contrast the sight of those signs in the American pool with what was on the walls at the Starkenberger Beer Pools in Austria.  There, we saw many murals, many of which were very bawdy and probably not suitable for audiences under age 13.  Bill and I were left alone to bathe to our hearts' content, drinking as much beer as we wanted.  There were no lifeguards on duty and no one was there to check our ages or tell us not to dive.  Fortunately, we were smart enough to survive the experience.  I'm proud to say that we lived by our wits that night!  And what memories we have!  It was one of the most fabulous evenings we've had since our move back to Europe.


The only sign at the Starkenberger Beer Pool...


A magical experience!

I wonder if those signs really do prevent drownings or other tragedies...  Somehow, I doubt it.  What they do is make it somewhat harder for people to be sued.  At the same time, they also kind of curb the ambiance and remind everyone that there are dumb people out there who have to be explicitly warned not to do dumb things.  It's a little depressing.  I'm a big fan of Darwinism, but that's probably because I'm nobody's mother.

I have spent the whole holiday weekend holed up at home.  Perhaps later today, we will go out and try a new restaurant.  But for now, I will think about how lucky I was to get to swim in beer with no lifeguard on duty and no warning signs protecting me from my own negligence.

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