As you may remember when I started planning this trip Petri warned me that I wouldn’t be able to interact with locals the same way I did in other countries. Worried I would be mute for ten days I wanted to include a few tours, surely the tour guides would be friendly, right?
Tonight I met Anna who was going to take me to the city’s oldest wood burning sauna, dinner and then out for drinks in the Kallio district. It was nice to see she was my age, so when she picked me up we were able to have some small chit chat and then she explained the sauna. We checked in and she asked what kind of drink I wanted.
I had been told by many people that I should not wear a swim suit in a Finnish sauna. I laughed because at 35 I am pretty comfortable with my body and I did not think it would be an issue. But I have to say it felt kind of weird to meet someone ten minutes prior then strip everything off and hang out naked in a hot box.
Well it was about 2 minutes of feeling awkward.
Then about ten other women came in within seconds it felt like the most normal thing in the world. I was happy that I had come with Anna because I also learned a few key things about the Finnish sauna.
- Finns won’t correct how you pronounce anything Finnish except how to say sauna – SOW -NE. It is the only word they seem to care about.
- Public saunas are separated by gender. Almost everyone has a sauna in their home or shared in an apartment building.
- You do not bring your towel into the sauna. My North American over sanitized sensibilities were alarmed by this but you just sit naked on the wood.
- You do take a break to go outside to have a drink. We had a beer and a long drink (a gin and grapefruit type soda) while cooling off and heading back in. Put your towel on to go outside, there are men there too.
- If you are going to put more water on the wood oven you must ask everyone else first. Someone made the faux pas of just doing this and put too much water on. It feels like acid is burning your face and you have to leave the sauna. It is considered rude.
- You do talk to strangers. The older generation may not speak English but most of the younger generation does and it is normal to talk to the women in the sauna. People don’t close their eyes as they would in North America to hide the fact they feel uncomfortable being naked. They just sit around and chat, and sometimes in English so the tourist can understand.
I have now learned the rules of Finnish sauna I am moving onto an even bigger challenge, in the city of Tampere I am going from the sauna to jump into a frozen lake. I am scared, but when in Finland…