Friday, April 27, 2012

Surviving the sauna in Sweden

Swedish sauna, the only place where sauna is taken more seriously is Finland, but Swedes take their sauna pretty seriously. And for an outsider it can be a pretty scary experience.

Being in a Swedish sauna is like being naked in an elevator. There are very few places where you feel comfortable resting your eyes. No body says anything, unless they have to. And everyone is nude.

You can encounter the Swedish sauna in many places, at bath houses (which are intended for families, get your mind out of the gutter), by the sea - where you are encouraged to dive in naked in the freezing cold water after your sauna, or at your friend's house.

In most swimming halls there are male and female saunas, but often even 'family saunas' for mixed gender. Kids come and go together into the sauna. There is no talk of the 'danger' of the pedophile hiding in the corner, everything is out in the open.

If you are braving a public sauna, you might be thinking - ah ha, I will just wear my swimsuit into the sauna. No. You won't. Or if you try, you might be chastised. There are often signs and aggressive old women who tell you 'Get naked or else.' Apparently wearing a bathing suit in a sauna is unhygienic. Less hygienic then a lot of naked bits on hot wood.

You are, however, supposed to bring a towel. Most people lie on their towel, naked. Me, being a prudish American, tightly bundle myself up in a towel. Please, we didn't even get naked to change for gym class in my school. I don't do nudity around strangers well. Even worse around people I kinda sorta know.

I always feel a bit like I am wandering around my own episode of Discovery Planet. 'Look at the females, lounging about in the warmth...'

I must admit I am a terrible saunaer. I know you are supposed to run directly to some cold water or something when you come out of the sauna, but I never make it. My heart rate drops and I usually end up having to lie down on the floor until I get blood flow back to my brain again. Hence the main reason why I don't sauna too much in public anymore.

If you are going for a true Swedish experience, you will have to try the sauna. And there you will learn that people come in all shapes and sizes. And that sweating amongst naked strangers is a special feeling.


  1. In some ways, it must be easier to strip off in front of strangers - at least you probably won't ever see them again, whereas with family, you will. And they will se that you have gow fatter/thiner/wobblier since they saw you last.

  2. Yeah, the sauna culture has been traditionally the pleasure of folks who live in Scandinavian countries. I suggest you visit saunas that are separated by gender for you to be able to bask in and enjoy the experience, because that's what matters most. :) By the way, before you get in the water, it's better if to have a quick shower first to experience the maximum effect. :)

    1. Mixed gender saunas are the way to go, it's more relaxing.
      A bunch of dudes together, only, in a sauna, is revolting.

  3. This is fun to read as a Finn. Sauna is the best and the healthiest way to relax. Let go of your self-consciousness, get a bit spiritual and just relax and sweat!

  4. Did saunas a fair amount as a child as my mothers side is of Finnish heritage, it was also the real deal where you "spank" yourself with small wooden branches called "ris" while enduring 97c degree heat from a real old wood burning sauna (bastu in swedish) at my morfars house.

    It was awsome! Sadly don't do it much anymore as there arn't many saunas here in the south.

  5. This is fun to read as an American who lived in Finland for 7 years. The first time I got in the sauna with my father and brother inlaw they laughed at me for wearing swim trunks in. But after awhile I was doing as the fins do besides as an American I thinks we can be alittle to uptight.

  6. Sauna is most needed in cold countries. I live in Canada and i use saunas and massage chairs which is a very good combination.

  7. Very true about the public sauna! I also wrote about a similar experience