I have been a big fan of sauna since I was quite young. My mother used to take me to her yoga classes and then we would sauna together with her friends. But I have to say that it was not the Swedish way. So when I first arrived, I was excited to try the Swedish way. So, me and a bunch of friends who are international students went to the sauna at Harryda (a few kilometers from Gothenburg). The facility is owned by Chalmers and its was really great. There was a lake next to the sauna and I really loved it there. The temperature was slightly negative and at some point while we were having dinner (international dinner), it started snowing
. It was a fantastic evening with good company and great food.
We went to the sauna around 7 pm and apparently we were all foreigners so we have just heard and read about the Swedish sauna where you jump down into icy cold water after coming out of the sauna. So, we did try it. We were in the sauna until we were entirely covered with sweats and then we walked out of the sauna and some of us jumped into the lake while some just dip their bodies in. The feeling after coming out of the cold lake was priceless. You could see the smoke literally coming out of your body. Then, you ran back into the sauna. I did it around 4 times running back and forth from sauna to the lake. It was actually quite fun for me. So, I really like the Swedish sauna. Plot twist, actually there’s more than this about the real Swedish sauna. Keep reading.
You can experience the real Swedish sauna by going to public bathhouses by the sea, swimming halls, student dormitories or even some private apartments. However, I find the experience scary because it felt like being naked with a bunch of strangers in the cinema or an elevator. But at least in the cinema you know where to rest your eyes or in the case of an elevator, stare at the door. But you might think, they must separate the gender, unfortunately, this is so only at the swimming halls but not at public bathhouses and public saunas. It is considered the family place or the unisex saunas where kids run around naked and there’s no talk about ‘stranger danger,’ everything is out there for the eyes to behold.
But one might think, what about swimsuits? Hold that thought, I actually tried and I thought it would be effective because I can use my half Asian look and pull some innocence while ignoring the signs. To my dismay, some random nude angry woman yelled something in Swedish and from her look it could mean something like ‘get naked or else I'll eat you.’ The justification behind the nudity in Sauna is for hygienic reasons. Apparently swimsuits are less hygienic that some sweaty naked skins on hot woods. However, in their defense, people brought in towels and lie on them naked ignoring the existence of the fellow saunaers. Where I come from, we even have separate rooms for changing in the gyms. Hence, I ended up wrapping myself in the towel and stared at my own toe nails instead. I didn’t even bother dipping myself in the cold water.
To be honest, people that knows me would say I’m a social and outgoing person, I like people and I wouldn’t mind a random chit chat with strangers. In fact, I once even joined some random stranger for a round of ‘lindy hop’ at Central Park in NYC, just because they were playing the music and the man looked sad. But I have to admit a combination of nudity and strangers got me speechless and tongue-tied. It was a unique experience after all.
So, my advice is that, if you are in Sweden or will be in Sweden, you should try the Swedish sauna experience. I guarantee you will see a whole new world where people comes in different color, sizes, and shapes. So, embrace yourself, seize the moment and make your presence in Sweden counts. It’s not always that you can sweat naked with strangers.
Written by: Daphne Hingert