I recently experienced a culture shock – I went to a Belgian swimming pool.
Shock #1 was when we found out we had to wear a swimming cap at all times in the pool. Odd.
Shock #2 unisex changing rooms. They had tiny little cubicles in which you went to change and you were expected to emerge from the other side with your swimming suit on and all other belonging ready to be put into a locker.
Shock #3 open showers. There was only a small, 1m-tall wall separating the showers from the pool. You could easily see everyone in the pool and they could see you.
Shock #4 sauna cost extra.
What shocked me the most were the changing rooms and showers. Why the tiny cubicles and unisex changing rooms? Why did we have to wear the swimming suit on all the time – surely these people don’t shower with them on at home, why here?
A friend of mine who’s lived in Belgium for a while now summed it up fairly well: “In Belgium you’re never naked. Ever.”
That’s not the case in Finland. Or with Finnish people in general.
Sure, we seem like a reserved nation. We have our personal space. But nudity has nothing to do with that.
See, we have this thing called sauna. And reilu meininki.
Sauna is where naked men sit next to each other sweating without anybody thinking much of it. Where grannies and teenage girls chat about the weather or life – in the nude. If it’s at the summer house, then everyone will most likely run to the lake in the nude afterwards. At the pool, you’d just go take a shower. Naked obviously.
As a kid you think nothing of it. Mothers take their children who’re too young to go by themselves with them so sometimes there are little boys in the women’s changing room. Teenagers are a bit more self-aware and I remember not being entirely comfortable with being naked in front of my classmates. As an adult you know that there are women of all shapes, sizes and age around, you’re just one among many.
A friend of mine recently told me how they went to a summer house where they thought they wouldn’t have a lake so people didn’t bring their swimming suits. But turns out there was one so everybody went swimming – naked. One girl had brought hers but since everybody else (men and women) was naked she didn’t wear it.
So that’s the Finnish countryside for you, lots of naked people running around to the nearest pool of water.
But the nudity runs deeper than that. Sometimes the young men in our country drink a bit. At times they feel like clothes are a bit too constrictive so they take them off and run around naked in the streets. This happened a lot when we won the Ice-hockey World Championships.
I’m not saying the Belgian way of keeping your clothes on at all times is wrong. It’s just odd to a Finn.