finnish sauna

Helsinki, Finland

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…

 

Disclosure: I was a guest of the Finnish Tourist Board as part of a Navigate Media Group project. They did not request that I write a favourable review or have a drink or two outside to get the full experience.

28 Comments

  1. Matthew Karsten on the March 20, 2013 remarked #

    I’ve never been in a proper naked sauna. Only with towels. It’s interesting that saunas are everywhere in Finland too. What are the supposed benefits?
    Matthew Karsten recently posted..Waterfalls & Waterslides on The Garden Island

    • Jenni on the March 20, 2013 remarked #

      Hi Matthew! As a Finn I can try to answer your question. :) Sauna is a huge part of Finnish culture (there is a sauna in basically every home and even small apartments tend to have one!) and because it belongs to our everyday life we Finns tend to see it more as a social event than as something beneficial to your health. But of course, it does do you good in so many levels! Like in sports, it is good for the human body to sweat a little once in a while, and it is also very beneficial for the skin! I can tell from my own experience that my skin always gets so much worse when there is a week or two when I don’t get to go to the sauna. Most of all, however, sauna is a place for relaxing and having a time just for yourself or, alternatively, for friends with whom the best conversations are always guaranteed when in sauna! It really is a place for letting go of all the stress, opening up and enjoying the warmth! If you haven’t tried a Finnish sauna I really (warmly!) recommend it for you! :)

  2. Mike on the March 20, 2013 remarked #

    Saunas are so therapeutic. The ubiquitous sauna concept has to be one of the coolest things about Finnish culture.
    Mike recently posted..Captured for the Camera in Beautiful Baños

    • Ayngelina on the March 25, 2013 remarked #

      Yeah it is definitely up there for reasons to love Finland.

  3. RA on the March 20, 2013 remarked #

    Great overview of sauna. I am a Finno Canadian and visited my cousins this summer. It seems strange for us to just get naked and hop into a public sauna and be social, but it is the complete norm in Finland. For families, sauna can be considered part of normal family bonding time. Small children usually sauna with their parents, and as they get older, girls and boys sauna separately. It is also very common to have birch branches in the sauna to rub against the skin. Many saunas also have a shower room attached, so that I can go in and out of the sauna and shower off your sweat and cool down if you like between turns in the sauna. If you are brave, like my cousins, you may just jump in the lake.

    The underlying pint is, EVERYBODY does it!

    • Ayngelina on the March 25, 2013 remarked #

      Ooh I forgot I did the birch branch thing, well actually Anna was nice enough to whip my back with it. Strange at first but I felt great afterwards.

  4. Tracy Z on the March 20, 2013 remarked #

    Oh god – I don’t know how comfortable I’d be with taking it all off in front of strangers, regardless of how much steam there may be. But sounds like it was quite the experience for you!

    • Ayngelina on the March 25, 2013 remarked #

      In the beginning it seems weird but you quickly get over it.

  5. Ceri on the March 21, 2013 remarked #

    Wow, good for you, girl. I’ve never been in a sauna before but I don’t know how I’d feel getting naked in front of people. I guess it would be one of those things I’d love to try once one day. :)
    Ceri recently posted..I Came to Mexico and Got Eye-Fucked by Diego Luna

    • Ayngelina on the March 25, 2013 remarked #

      It isn’t as bad as you think, especially when it is so normal for everyone else.

  6. Amanda on the March 21, 2013 remarked #

    Huh. I didn’t realize saunas were quite THAT big of a deal in Finland! (For example, the fact about most people having one in their home or apartment building? Surprising!)
    Amanda recently posted..A Dance of Lights: Awed by the Aurora Borealis

    • Ayngelina on the March 25, 2013 remarked #

      Oh yeah we stopped by Anna’s place first and she showed me her sauna, if you get a new condo it’s pretty much mandatory.

  7. Kristin Addis on the March 22, 2013 remarked #

    Oh man. I like to think that I’m pretty open, but I don’t know how I’d feel sitting completely naked without even a towel to sit on with perfect strangers. Good on you!
    Kristin Addis recently posted..We No Speak Americano

    • Ayngelina on the March 25, 2013 remarked #

      Well I guess strangers are better than all your friends?

  8. Steph on the March 24, 2013 remarked #

    When I did the sauna up north they had disposable seat liners to sit on in the sauna. I got the impression that bare-butting it would be a faux pas- maybe it’s regional?
    Steph recently posted..Finland: the Best and Worst

    • Ayngelina on the March 25, 2013 remarked #

      Maybe because this was the oldest wood burning sauna there were old school rules so no seat liners?

  9. Shivangi on the March 28, 2013 remarked #

    Very apt title ! Growing up in India, this seems like an out of the world experience. Whenever it is that i do reach Finland, I’m definitely baring it all !!

  10. Chill Educational Travel on the April 1, 2013 remarked #

    I have heard so many mixed reviews about Finland. Mostly from my European friends telling me Finnish people are strange. But no doubt Finland is an amazing country and has a lot of neat things to experience! I most make my way there.
    Cheers~erin

  11. Camels & Chocolate on the April 2, 2013 remarked #

    Now I was that prude who wore her suit. It just seemed so weird otherwise. Oh well, what are you going to do?
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..What I Read 2013: Part I

  12. Alex on the April 3, 2013 remarked #

    I did the sauna thing in Istanbul, however about half the people were wearing the little black bathing suit bottoms they give you so I did that too… But hey, when in Finland!
    Alex recently posted..Photo of the Week 94

  13. Pete on the April 3, 2013 remarked #

    I made the mistake of pouring too much water on the rocks and it felt exactly like you said.
    Pete recently posted..In a Field of Concrete

  14. Erica on the April 4, 2013 remarked #

    I have been eternally grateful that the older I get the more comfortable I am with myself. My very good friend has a sauna in her house and it was AWESOME.

    I could use them more often in my life.

  15. Abby on the April 6, 2013 remarked #

    I mean… I am so stressed out, and yet I live in an amazing spa town that I CANNOT afford! I love the spa culture in that part of the world.

  16. Emily in Chile on the April 6, 2013 remarked #

    I had no idea most people had saunas at home – fancy!

  17. Raymond @ Man On The Lam on the April 9, 2013 remarked #

    So that’s what goes on behind those doors…

  18. Teri on the June 2, 2013 remarked #

    Officially on my to do list! Sounds amazing! Reminds me of Japan’s onsen.
    Teri recently posted..What Can Be More Personal Than A Hammam?

  19. Pathan on the October 7, 2013 remarked #

    Well one of my cousin is living in Finland with his family.
    Honestly speaking, it’s good for health and also for socializing as you guys said, but one question in my mind, as I never remove my clothes in front of anyone, it seems really a big hurdle for me to go there and get naked in front of all…

    As a guy even I feel shy now, may be because it will be first time, or I dont know why…

    but if we ignore naked part in this, then it is a very good idea to go there and become healthy :)

    I am sorry if someone hurt from my comments, as I am not from Finland and dont know the culture :)

  20. Rafael Barros on the January 12, 2014 remarked #

    Wow, this place is great and your experience was very interesting. What I love about this place is that it’s a good place for foreigners to mix with local Finns. I’ve found that the effort of learning Finnish customs brings me much closer with the country!

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