My arms and legs are like dead weight, but I want to type out this story before anything else. The point is not only to share a story with you, but to put it into a larger social context in different cultures and perhaps generate some thoughts.
I have often heard about the sauna’s in different parts of Europe. Sweden, Hungary, and of course – here in the Netherlands; I had heard many first hand testimonies of the benefits and joy that come with sitting in a hot box sweating away the impurities and then plunging yourself in cold water. Naked of course. But thats a minor point… isn’t it?
So on this german weekend ski-extravaganza, we managed to pop into a sauna, my first sauna ever. I was looking forward to finally experiencing this phenomenon, not to mention get really clean after dragging myself face-first through the snow all day long. As we each paid our 10 or so euros, we were handed a bag with a terrycloth robe and two towels. I felt like I was joining a cult…. the cult of clean.
Skipping past all the boring details… there I am, along with one or two of my male travel companions, with a towel wrapped around my waste, having just done the intial rinse shower. We walk into the special sauna area, and one of the female travel companions greets us as we walk in, I hear her voice, but I’m distracted by the fact that naked women and men are walking past me and taking showers. I could almost feel her half laughing at me, as I looked over and noticed I was the only one with a towel still on. So I got with the program and got rid of the towel. Wanting not to seem like I didn’t know what to do, I asked where one should start while randomly putting myself under the VERY cold shower. She gestured towards the pine door, where others of my naked bretheren were ocassionally walking in and out. I followed their lead and found myself standing at the door facing all these other people in deep thought and sweat… perhaps inappropriately, I greeted the room with a “hello….. this is my first sauna.” The only laughter came from two friends who were already seated sweating it out. I took my place next to what I think may have been a beautiful and curvatious blonde; I don’t actually know if she was cause I didn’t have the nerve to look.
While sitting there.. dripping with sweat and wondering where I should rest my hands (folded? at my sides? on my head?) my mind started to wander. In the US people would freak at this concept. Not everyone.. but the conservative loud ones.. they’d put a stop to this at once. They would seperate men and women, and probably require bathingsuits. And what of my beloved Portugal? They would have a huge problem because men would harass the women like there was no tomorrow. Could southern Europe handle this type of place? My intial thought was — only in this part of the world. (though I know in either case there are saunas of some type)
But it’s really a wonderful achievement for a society. A true indicator of openness and understanding of ourselves, our bodies, our sexuality, and to a large extent, how its simply not a big deal when you put it in that context. That being said, how long will it take for the rest of the world to get to this point… and wouldn’t it be great if it did?