Baring it all in Finland

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.

Comments

    • Jenni says

      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! :)

  1. RA says

    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 says

      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.

  2. says

    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 says

      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.

  3. Shivangi says

    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 !!

  4. says

    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

  5. says

    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.

  6. says

    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.

  7. says

    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 :)

  8. Rafael Barros says

    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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