A lot of things have been difficult and are driving me crazy now that we have moved back to Finland, but a sauna is not one of them. The sauna situation is absolutely fantastic here!
First, there are plenty of saunas and it is ok to talk in a sauna… not too loud of course, but that’s just a general rule in Finnish culture that applies always and everywhere, except for when you are drunk in the public transportation during weekends after midnight. I also like it that in the public saunas there are no exhibitionists, nor hourglasses on the wall that people desperately follow and do not leave the sauna unless their time is up even when they are about to faint on the sauna benches.
I’m especially grateful to this dark, cold country that here it is not possible to end up in a sauna where you can find neither a water bucket nor the stove. You can just hear the electric ticking of the sauna stove somewhere, but there is no access to it for the sauna goers. This type of a sauna makes a Finnish person wonder if he/she is actually on the candid camera! It feels like some kind of a cruel prank: there you sit in a sauna that’s a little too cold and there is nothing you can do about it. This type of sauna should not exist.
The years we lived in Amsterdam, I got to know a little bit of the Dutch sauna culture, which is quite different from what I am used to. First, I went to the sauna in our gym. It was a mixed sauna where people wore towels and it was the first time I learned that the sauna is “a quiet room”. I think the sign appeared on the sauna door after we had been there a couple of times with my husband just talking about how our days went, like you would talk over dinner in some other countries. It’s not an easy thing for a Finn to admit that you have been too loud or talkative, because we never are. Anyway, I adjusted and kept my mouth shut so that people could go do their sauna in peace and quiet. However, it took out some pleasure from going to the sauna.
I also don’t like to go to sauna wearing a towel. It gets all sweaty and it just does not feel right, but anyway I was ready to live with it, because I really needed my weekly sauna. I stopped going to the gym sauna after sitting on the sauna bench with bunch of guys wearing their sweaty boxer shorts after a workout, because… God knows the reasons. Anyway, it was too much. I could not adjust.
After that I went looking for the perfect sauna in different spas. The first shock – surprisingly – was that many Dutch spas are no-swimsuit & mixed-sex spas. In Finland public saunas and pools have different dressing rooms and saunas for men and women, and in the pool areas you always wear swimming suits. I got over the shock relatively quickly, because, well, I needed my sauna. Talking about my “naked” spa surprise with the Dutch, I discovered that many Dutch wanted to go to spas but the fear of running into their boss or colleagues naked was too big to overcome. I also realised the interesting difference in Dutch and Finnish sauna cultures: for Finns it is ok to go to the sauna with your family, friends and yes, even colleagues, but the idea of a mixed spa with people you don’t know feels weird. I guess for Dutch the idea of going to a mixed spa is still more ok than going to sauna with friends, not to even mention colleagues.
I went regularly to spas in the Netherlands and learned to enjoy the abundance of services and different kinds of pools they offer. I also found couple of ok saunas. The most ridiculous things I saw in Dutch spas were people laying naked outside on the spa lawn in the fall when temperature does not support this kind of behaviour (I think they were either having sex or dead, I did not go check) and exhibitionists who place a chair just in front of an entrance so that everyone who comes through the door can enjoy the view of their carefully exposed penis. I’ve also had a fight in a spa sauna…. on a Christmas eve… because apparently I threw too much water on the stones. I’m not proud of it, but just that you know: I threw less than half of the amount I wanted to as a nice Christmas gesture towards all the meditating, hourglass-watching sauna amateurs.
But back to where we started. Now that I’m back to my original sauna environment I do have to say, I’m really enjoying it. I’m sure there are people who struggle to adjust to Finnish sauna habits or are wondering if they dare to take the first step and go to the sauna in the first hand. For all those people, here are my tips on how to do Finnish sauna:
- Go naked, nobody really cares how you look like.
- Always when you go in or out of the sauna, CLOSE THE DOOR. Only children leave the door open.
- Go with friends, they love you the way you are and don’t really care how you look like.
- Talk, but not too loudly. Talk about fun stuff. Talk about difficult things. What you talk in the sauna, stays in the sauna.
- Drink water and beer, but not too much.
- Go out to cool down and then back into the sauna. Talk and drink while doing this. Repeat several times. Also consider: swimming, rolling naked in the snow, dipping yourself in a hole in the ice.