Going nude: sauna etiquette

It helps to know some of the dos and don’ts before setting foot in a Scandinavian sauna.

Written by James Proctor


© Joern Tomter/Northern Norway Tourist Board (www.visitnorthernnorway.com)© Joern Tomter/Northern Norway Tourist Board (www.visitnorthernnorway.com)

Any sauna you’ve come across at home will be a poor imitation.

No visit to Lapland is complete without experiencing a genuine Scandinavian sauna – any sauna you’ve come across at home will be a poor imitation. It’s as well, therefore, to know some of the dos and don’ts before you set foot in the real thing. Firstly, it’s important to dispel the myth that saunas are linked with sex in Scandinavia – nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, they are seen (particularly in Finland, which gave the world the sauna) as a cultural marker – somewhere to relax, enjoy the heat and steam and perhaps to ponder – though not talk. In general (and especially in Finland), saunas are silent places. For many foreigners, though, it’s the awkward question of nudity which is at the forefront of their minds: do I have to go completely nude to have a sauna? In short, yes. Remember that saunas are generally separate-sex affairs and full nudity is quite normal in the sauna and in the showers – wearing a swimming costume or wrapping yourself in a towel is not the done thing. Instead, follow the rules often posted up in a sauna: undress in the changing room and leave all your clothes there, then, walk naked to the showers and wash thoroughly before entering the sauna. Scandinavians don’t suffer from the same body guilt as many other nations and it’s quite normal for people to walk freely around in the nude in a sauna environment; covering up will not only make you look prudish and but will also single you out immediately as a non-sauna-savvy foreigner. Leave your towel either in the changing room or the shower room. Sometimes, most commonly in Finland, there are seat mats (either hard plastic or strong tissue) for sitting on in the sauna, close to the sauna entrance. Use one if they’re provided. If not, don’t take anything into the sauna – above all, do not sit on a towel or a swimming costume. Being naked in the sauna is considered much more hygienic than allowing sweat to soak into towels or swimming gear. When it’s time to cool off, head for the showers and rinse or wash – or, even better, in the midst of the Lapland winter, roll in the snow outside; the amazing tingling sensation you’ll experience on your skin is sensational! It’s a good idea to pause a while between visits to the sauna to allow your body time to cool down. Once again, there’s no need to cover up – simply sit and relax and leave your modesty where it belongs in the sauna – at the changing room door. The only exception to the nudity rule is in mixed-sex saunas, sometimes found in smaller hotels and spa complexes, where the wearing of swimming costumes is obligatory and strictly observed.

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