12 October 2009

Ever slept on a traversin ?

If you've ever been to France and slept in a hotel, you've probably seen and even slept on a traversin. Did you know what you were sleeping on?

In France, the traversin is a standard bed accessory. I just read on English-language Wikipedia that it is also very common in countries including China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, and Japan. It's not so common in America.

But we have several names for the traversin in American English. First of all, let me say that a traversin is a kind of bed pillow ... sort of. Here's a translation from French-language Wikipedia: "The traversin is sometimes considered to be a pillow. It is the same width as the bed (and is generally tubular in shape)." You could also call it a cushion.

We bought a traversin and a special pillow case for it.

Why is the traversin "sometimes" considered to be a pillow? I think it's because you use the traversin as a pillow for your pillow. In other words, while you can sleep with your head directly on the traversin if you want to, many prefer to use it a support for another kind of pillow — you rest your head on a pillow with the traversin underneath.

Like other pillows, in France the traversin has a specially made pillow case to protect it and keep it clean. The cases are easy to find. The traversin is actually one of three kinds of bed pillows you often see in France: rectangular pillows like most American pillows; square pillows that I think we call "European pillows" in the U.S.; and the cylindrical (or "tubular") traversin.

In French, another word for the traversin is « polochon ». I have to admit that I just learned that from reading French Wiki's article on the subject. The Robert dictionary, which is the standard in France, says polochon is a "familiar" term, compared to the more technically correct traversin. Another term used to describe it is « boudin », which means "sausage" — and it is certainly sausage-shaped.

I've always heard the expression « bataille de polochons » without making the connection. A « bataille de polochons » is what we call a "pillow fight" — and it's true that traversins would be excellent pillows to fight with. You could really swing them around, and have a long reach.

This is a "bolster" in American English.

In English, the technical term for travesin is "bolster" or "bolster pillow." I just read an article in which the author used the verb "to bolster" — to prop up, support — and realized that the bolster pillow actually bolsters your other pillow. In some countries, the bolster is called a "hugging pillow." And it's also known as a "body pillow" because you can hug it while you sleep and it will pillow your whole body. One source called it a "hot-dog pillow."

I'm writing about this because Walt and I just bought a traversin for the bed in our guest room. We've never had one before. This is part of our integration into French society, I guess. We have a bidet in the bathroom, but no toilet in there — it's in a separate room called the W.C. Now we have a traversin in the guest bedroom.

Pretty soon we'll be wearing berets and walking around carrying baguettes tucked under our arms.


  1. I love it - fascinating! The first thing I always do when I'm in France is take that off my bed and get a "regular" pillow.

    Donna in SF

  2. In some countries, the bolster is called a "hugging pillow."

    Isn't this also called a "Dutch wife" sometimes?

  3. That trend is so strong, you, now, can barely write in English! Such a pity! LOL, LOL, LOL, MDR, MDR, MDR.

  4. Vive la France! Vive le traversin!

    What seems to be the most common stuffing for pillows and traversins in France? polyester? foam? down? feathers?

    And... tell me, where do you store the actual sleeping pillow? That is always an issue chez moi... where do the decorative and reading pillows get put when we're finally going to sleep for the night?

  5. and if u sleep directly on the bolster u get a crick in ur neck...

  6. OMG! you guys don't have berets yet? (lol).

  7. At bedtime, the traversin goes on the floor. Then I stuff the pillowcase that I brought with me with a sweatshirt and use that for a pillow.

    I used to do that only when travelling in Europe, but now enormous pillows have taken over the world, so I do it everywhere, including last week in Oregon.

  8. Of course, YOUR traversin is an exception to my comments above. I'm sure it's perfectly comfy. :-)

  9. I agree..I'm sure YOUR traversin is very comfortable, BUT that makes it the only one! Many hotels don't offer regular pillows unless they're very well hidden. Dreadful things, I reckon.

  10. Nice traversin! Fun comments everyone. I like your idea Chis- a pillowcase and sweatshirt sound like a good idea.

  11. pardon my vulgarity but i am trying to see how having a bidet in a separate room from the chiottes is anything but the worst idea ever! on a cleaner note, i think the traversin is great if you're a pre-slumber reader.

  12. I do confirm, from my boarder old memories, that "traversins" are perfect for pillow fights ;-)

  13. I didn't realize traversins and pillows would bring so many comments. I guess we have strong feelings about such things as where and how we sleep.

    Siganus, I saw that term "Dutch wife" in some articles I read but I don't personally know it.

    CHM, mon anglais ne me fait pas encore défaut. Et je n'ai ni le courage ni le temps de faire un deuxième blog en français, avec toutes les corrections que cela nécessiterait.

    Judy, what is the most common pillow stuffing in the U.S.? Probably polyester, as in France I would guess. So many people are allergic feathers etc. nowadays. We store the sleeping pillows in a closet — well, a cabinet, really, with shelves.

    Nadège and Melinda, you both made me laugh.

    Chris, I often stuff a big towel in a pillowcase when I don't have enough real pillows or the right kind. Same idea. When you come to stay with us again, don't put the traversin on the floor, but maybe on the sofa in the living room, okay?

    Evelyn, I guess it's a good idea to start traveling with a pillowcase in the suitcase. That's kind of what we all did when we went to Auvergne, right?

    Sue, there are usually pillows in the armoire in hotel rooms, no? I guess it depends on the hotel.

    Miss Yuri, quel langage! MDR. The bidet is a fixture for washing yourself, so it goes in the room with the bathtub, sink, and shower, no? The WC goes in a separate room, which is also called the WC. Seems normal to me.

    Thanks, Thib. At 60, I'm pretty old to start pillow-fighting now...


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