What is the etiquette for using a sauna in Scandinavia?
Oh, Brits! (Erm, you’re a Brit too, David – ed) I do like our need for rules and guidelines, which we stick to so rigidly – except when we don’t want to. But we’ll always be quick to judge others to break them if we’re not doing so. Like the woman on the tube today. I was about to give her the seat that had just been vacated right in front of me, before she barged past and claimed it for herself.
The point of that tale is that she broke the etiquette of travel. Although how you can apply rules of etiquette to the jungle that is the sewer-train system of London, I don’t know. ANYWAY, we’re talking about saunas, not trains. Although a tube train in summer is a particularly unpleasant simulation of the sauna experience.
First of all, we have to make one thing very clear: saunas are a social experience beloved of many in the Nordic lands, and particularly in Finland. They pronounce it “sow-na”. Sowna. What sownas are not are what the Brits may assume are places of ill-repute. Oh yes, all that sauna business that goes on in Soho, “Swedish massage” and the like? No. No, no, no. The sauna is a convivial experience. I said convivial.
Take your towel off, though. No one cares. This is Scandinavia. We’re all the same. Most saunas have separate areas for the sexes, but it’s considered bad manners for the guest not to pop in for a while if invited.
Some people have a beer or two. This isn’t advised. Alcohol in that heat? It’s a recipe for disaster, and with the Brit sauna-taker already having palpitations at being naked in the company of strangers, it’s enough to bring on a turn.
It’s probably best to enjoy the heat in small doses, with regular trips away to the wash area to sip liquids. But not that beer.
And then, when it’s over? Well, if you’re lucky, you get to jump into an ice-cold lake, or roll in the snow. What a treat, eh?
Afterwards, it is often the case that your local host may want to continue the conviviality over food and drink. Here, you can discuss your experiences of what you have just endured.
Sauna is fun. Go for it.
By Mr David Jørgensen.