Douche écossaise

As I’m freshly back from a week’s holiday in Scotland, I was amused to come across “contrast shower”, which means to alternate cold and hot showers in order to speed up recovery after intense physical exercice. Indeed, the French translation is… douche écossaise (Scottish shower). This is what Expressio has to say about this expression (simplified translation):

Since the middle of the 19th century, the Scottish shower is a shower which alternates cold and hot water to create a strong contrast.
By extension, since the middle of the two world wars, it refers to successions of strongly contrasted events, situations, actions, words… i.e. reversals of situations.
But why “Scottish”? It’s hard to find a detailed explanation of the origin of this expression, apart from an often repeated suggestion that it could come from a form of hydrotherapy used by the Scots.

The Isle of Skye was stupendously beautiful, by the way.
Neist Point

By |2011-06-03T16:11:30+00:00June 3rd, 2011|Idioms|8 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Linda Herbertson June 3, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Magnificent photos, Céline.
    I always assumed the “douche écossaise” referred to weather, which changes very fast – you can be sitting out in the sunshine when black clouds suddenly appear, open, drench everything, then disappear again leaving you sitting in the sunshine… the sky is never boring in (my memory of) Scotland.

  2. EP June 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    I just read that it might have something to do with that famous (imfamous?) Scottish frugality. It “encouraged bathers to alternate between the inexpensive cold water and the more expensive hot water. The bather still benefits from the hot water, but not enough to break the homeowner’s bank.”

  3. céline June 3, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    I love that explanation, whether it’s right or not. In France, it’s the people of Normandy who have a reputation for frugality.

  4. Jenn Mercer June 3, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    I am now afraid of going to Scotland for fear that I would never want to return home.

  5. Douglas Carnall June 3, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    Your explanation of “la douche écossaise” as a kind of spa experience that is actively sought is interesting and positive.
    Whenever I’ve heard the expression, it’s been in joking complaint about a malfunctioning shower that unexpectedly turns cold, giving the user an unpleasant shock.
    Naturally, this happens every time one showers in Scotland (and London is foggy, the food is terrible…)

  6. Katherine June 8, 2011 at 4:15 am

    Not really on topic, but I just had to comment on your photos, they are stunning!
    And what’s that tropical white sandy beach doing in the Hebrides?!

  7. TranslationGuy June 15, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    Scottish showers in those photos too. Nice pictures, Céline!

  8. Mark Heany July 18, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Wonderful photos Céline. As an Irishman living in Spain, I must say ex-pats often forget how beautiful our islands are!!

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