I’m English. We don’t really do naked. Near-naked, yes, but the full Monty? No, that’s only in films. It makes us giggle. It makes us rouge.
So when a friend suggested an outing to a sauna here in Switzerland, I confess the thought was rather startling. It was to be an outing in more ways than one. I prepared myself meticulously, as if I was about to be examined under a microscope by a million Swiss eyes. I had no idea what to expect. I was nervous.
When we got there, I wrapped myself up extremely tight in a large towel and sat there scowling at anyone who lifted their head vaguely in my direction. That is, until I realised it was just too hot for such uptight behaviour. The towel gradually began to loosen, until, with a deep breath and an attempt at nonchalance, I shrugged it off.
I have come a long way since then, and learned a great deal. Sauna etiquette, for example, dictates that there should be no talking and no looking. Both of these rules are broken, all the time. Not everyone talks, that’s true. But I’m sorry, I don’t care what anybody says, everyone looks. We all know we’re not meant to – when eyes meet across a sweaty room, heads jerk sharply away - but we do. We’re human. We’re curious. It’s natural.
And if I hadn’t looked, then I wouldn’t have realised quite how many Swiss women coiffure their muffs to within an inch of their lives. Now I’m not saying mine’s a jungle, but I did not actually realise that there is a national Swiss muff-style, which consists of nigh-complete removal. Pretty porn, I must say. Go Swiss chicks!
Recently my boyfriend and I went for a romantic spa weekend in a remote hotel that could only be reached by skidoo. Snow-covered landscapes, tranquility and isolation beckoned. The surroundings didn’t disappoint, but the sauna was… tiny.
We found ourselves squeezed in to this small hot-room of nudity, packed to the proverbial rafters with sweaty Swiss people. Sweaty, chatty Swiss people. Every so often I would see my boyfriend jerk upright, eyes wide, as his leg accidentally came into contact with the spread from a rather generously proportioned lady on the other side of him. He should be used to this, I thought, being Swiss. But even he found it hard to relax, what with all the new friendships being forged around us.
I am now what I consider to be a veteran, and although I don’t quite stalk about the place as some do, I have definitely mastered a slight condescension to those who insist on wearing bathing suits. Haven’t they heard the popular Swiss refrain about how very unhygienic it is to sweat into a material that can’t be washed properly?
My gym recently offered me a chance to try out their new sauna and I jumped at it. The spa being popular with expats, I was entirely surrounded by bathing-clothed bodies.
I remember being prudish like you, I thought to myself smugly as I lay back on my towel. I could feel the eyes on me but I didn’t care. How did they know I wasn’t Swiss? I was liberated, at one with my body.
Thoroughly relaxed, I decided afterwards that I would add access to the spa to my gym membership.
I really enjoyed myself, I told the cute account manager dealing with the paperwork. And feeling bold, I added, but it’s a shame that so many people are wearing swimsuits – it’s so unhygienic!
Cutey blinked at me for a moment, and then said: Oh, didn’t you see the signs? Our spa is a no nudity zone.