Britain says no to the Speedo

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(Image: Flickr user k.steudel (cc: by-nc-sa))

The amusement park Alton Towers in the UK has taken a bold step in the interest of public decency: It's banned skimpy swimwear, particularly the Speedo-style for men. You know, the itsy bitsy ones.

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"The World's" Alex Gallafent filed this story:

Morwenna Angove is the sales and marketing director at Alton Towers. She explained the park's new policy:

"Okay the skinny is we have a fantastic water park here at the resort, and with the great weather we've been experiencing over the last week or so it had come to light, through our lifeguards, that a number of ladies and gentlemen were wearing quite skimpy swimwear.

"Most of our guests are families and particularly in the water park they are younger families, and we were getting an increasing amount of feedback saying that they felt some of the swimwear being worn by other guests was inappropriate. So we took the step on Monday to ban tight trunks and thong booty strings in the water park. Certainly for the period of the summer holidays when we get most of the young families."

The park has put some of its employees through training, "... so they've got a very good idea now of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable," Angove added.

It's not about being prudish, she said, it's about business -- if paying park guests don't want to see a waterlog display of personal assets, then they shouldn't have to. And the park is taking an extra step to ensure this:

"A number of complaints that we had -- would you believe -- are related to excess genital hair being on display," said Angove. "So we are actually offering complimentary bikini area waxing for gentlemen. If they wish to take us up on that they can."

Elsewhere skimpy swimming attire is de rigueur -- mandatory in fact. In France it's long swimming shorts that are banned. But only in public pools. The thinking is that board shorts are more prone to picking up sand, dust, and other matter than more skimpy swimwear. That disturbs the water quality. So in France Speedos rule.

But why stop in France? Alton Towers says that tight swimwear is "more suited to Spain than Staffordshire." (Staffordshire is more or less in the middle of England.)

Christina Ortiz works at Casa de Campo, a public swimming pool in Madrid where it seems anything goes, "You can wear Speedos or you can wear shorts. You can wear ... even a tanga if you want to."

A tanga is a type of thong that can be worn by both women and men.

"I mean you have to cover your sexual parts, but even the girls can do topless," Ortiz adds. "People are used to it and I think, yeah, we're more comfortable with the body than in other countries."

Americans take note: next time you pack your bags for Europe you'll need Speedos, board shorts, or in England -- a full-body wet suit if you wouldn't mind awfully.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.

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