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Sauna etiquette for the holiday season

Be prepared to be textile-free.

It’s long been a cliché, but it is true: Germans are very matter-of-fact about their nakedness. These days it is not so prevalent as it once was, but walkers in Munich’s Englischer Garten, for example, or even on a certain trail in the Harz Mountains, may find their jaws drop and their eyes pop as they encounter the unexpectedly textile-free.

Being married to a German, I encountered my parents-in-law, eye-poppingly starkers, on the very first weekend I went to stay with them. It was quite a shock when it happened, I can tell you, but over the years I guess I have become immune, although I’ve not joined them and have yet to be convinced of the health benefits or even metaphysical benefits of spending more time naked. Germany’s younger generation is broadly of the same opinion as me, although most are still prepared to divest themselves of all clothing when the occasion demands.

Anyway, stepping into a German sauna last week reminded me of certain key bits of sauna etiquette, the sort of things that sauna virgins, or infrequent visitors, should be aware of. Especially during the holiday season.

  • Don’t stare. It’s rude. And giggling is even worse. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen; if nudity, in its imperfect forms (and most bodies are imperfect, particularly in saunas), disturbs you, then stay away.
  • You don’t have to be naked. Nobody insists on it. Although you may feel uncomfortable if you are in your cozzie whilst everyone else is in their birthday suit, which by the way is a sure way of attracting attention to yourself as a potential pervert.
  • Some saunas have textile-free zones, which should be clearly marked. Take the cozzie, but be prepared to leave it in the changing room.
  • There are always towels, lots of them. Mostly tastefully draped. Make sure you are well equipped in the towel department, and sit or lie on one if you are naked, for reasons of hygiene.
  • Even the most beautiful of bodies is still just a body, and it is surprising how unsexy the sauna can make it.
  • You may think that everyone is looking at you, but don’t kid yourself; they’ve been to a lot of saunas and seen a lot of bodies, and yours is very unlikely to be any different to all the rest. Unless you’re from the planet Zog.

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