It's interesting to me because my first trip ever to France was a six-month study program in Aix-en-Provence. That was more than 35 years ago. It seems to me that some things haven't changed much, and one has to do with American expectations about what it will be like to "live with a French family."
Here's how Kathy from Tennessee described an incident that had to do with taking her first shower in her landlady's apartment in Aix. Isabelle the landlady had been out the evening before, when her new boarder arrived, so the two hadn't even met yet. The man named Markus was living in the other room that Isabelle rented out to students. He and Kathy were to share the bathroom. Christine is Isabelle's daughter, who was arriving for a visit from overseas.
I went to bed Sunday night before Isabelle and Christine arrived from the airport, and unfortunately my first meeting with Isabelle was not ideal. Markus and I had decided the night before that I would shower at 6:45 and he would shower at 7:15. I was wide awake at 6:15 and decided to go ahead and get my shower out of the way, perhaps around 6:30 am. It never occurred to me that this would be a problem. I was showering away (with a handheld shower attachment), when BANG BANG BANG!!! It was Isabelle. NON, NON, NON!!!! I ended my shower as quickly as possible, put on my clothes, and went out to meet her. I had gotten up too early! I had woken up everyone else! And (worse offense), I had used too much water! I wasn’t supposed to keep the water on non-stop! I was supposed to get myself wet, turn it off, use the soap, turn it on, ecetera, ecetera, all in rapid-fire French. “Je suis désolée!!!” “Pardon, Madame!!” Oh my goodness… I was off to a terrible beginning.The French have always been very frugal when it comes to using electricity, in my experience, and one of the most electicity-intensive electrical appliances in a house or apartment is the water heater. I learned years ago that the way you take a shower in France is to turn on the water just long enough to get wet and then turn it off again. With the water off, you shampoo your hair and soap up your body. Then you turn the water back on just long enough to rinse off.
I learned to shower that way because an apartment I lived in in Paris in the late 1970s and early 1980s had a very tiny water heater. It held 30 litres, I believe, of hot water. That's just seven or eight gallons. If I left the water running non-stop during my shower, it would be cold before I finished bathing.
Our water heater here at La Renaudière is bigger. It holds 200 litres, or 53 U.S. gallons. I don't know how much water a typical U.S. water heater holds. Here, if Walt and I both take showers and we use a good amount of hot water in the kitchen that day, the hot water runs out.
It runs out because of the way our electrical system, and most electrical system in most French houses, is set up. The water heater is on a special timed circuit that is controlled by the breaker box. The water heater comes on at about 10:30 p.m. when electrical rates go down, and cuts itself off again at about 5:30 when the rates go back up. Water is heated only during night hours, and once you use up all the water in the tank, that's it for the day. Unless, of course, you remember and decide to go down to the circuit breaker panel and flip the switch that turns the water heater on during daylight hours.
It's very ecological and economical, when you think about it. Water gets heated at nighttime rates, which are about half as high as daytime rates. Many days, you don't even need all the hot water in the tank, so what's the point of having the water heater on all day? It's a waste of electricity. And the by-product of generating electricity is pollution and greenhouse gases. Global warming. Climate change. Ecological nightmare scenarios.
French washing machines, and dishwashers also come with timers so that you can program them to run overnight, when electricity is cheaper. That's what we do. And the washing machine and dishwasher heat their own water, so they don't take water out of the water heater tank when they run. The one mystery we haven't solved, however, is why the normal washing cycle takes two hours to complete in France, rather than the 35 or 40 minutes an American washer needs.
So remember this when you come to France and go to take a shower.  Get wet,  turn off the water,  soap up,  turn the water back on, and  rinse off. That's the drill. Don't keep the water on the whole time you are in the shower. Ça ne se fait pas — it's just not done that way.
Walt says that when he lived in a boarding house in Paris in 1981, he was allowed two showers a week. If he stayed in the bathroom more than 10 minutes at a time, the boarding house owner would come and start banging on the door, telling him his time was up and to hurry up and finish.
Oh, and if you end up with a bathtub that has a shower attachment but no enclosure or curtain, do it this way. Run two or three inches of hot water into the bottom of the tub. Get in, splash around in that, and soap up. Then pull the plug to let the soapy water out and, while still seated, turn the water back on and direct the flow through the shower attachment. Rinse off while seated, being as careful as you can not to spray water all over the bathroom. It's nice to find, when you finish bathing and want to dry off, that you haven't gotten your towel sopping wet while you were showering.