Sweden is a country full of surprises and the sauna culture is no exception.
First of all what you need to know is that Swedish saunas have a strict no swimming costume rule and all you can bring is a towel and something to drink. The first time I went to a sauna was in 2013 when I lived in Sweden during an exchange. It was actually on a ferry crossing from Stockholm to Helsinki and that possibly made it worse as the Finns are known for being hard-core sauna lovers who like it extra hot and will pretend not to speak English if you try to ask them to tone it down.
Although my other exchange friends I was with were slightly confused at the idea that I wanted to pay to spend time in a small room full of naked men, my answer was that in Scandinavia it is a big part of their life so I had to try out this cultural experience. I managed to convince a friend and went. The experience was overall good, although I found it too hot and had to run out to have a cold shower every 5 minutes.
Three years later I finally returned to Sweden to visit a good friend in the southern most region called Skåne. He’s American but Swedish at heart so he came up with the idea of going for a sauna. At first I was a bit wary, but then I decided to go for it. It was a bit unexpected as we were at a house party playing drinking games and at one point the host shouts out ‘half an hour to sauna time’. So half an hour later the party moved to a small room in the basement with a wooden interior and a special heater on which you would pour hot water to make it steam. Once you surpass the Victorian style thinking process about nudity and British prudishness , you feel quite relaxed.
On my last day in Sweden, my friend took me to another sauna this time a public one by the sea and that evening entrance was mixed, for both men and women. This was by far the best sauna experience, partly due to the big windows overlooking Malmö and the sea and also for the fact that you could throw yourself into the cold sea water when feeling too hot as opposed to just showering. Funny thing is that nobody seemed to care that people were swimming naked in broad daylight off a pier.
This was the ‘real experience’ as you had a bunch of Swedes that did not know each other in the same room, relaxing. And if there is one thing Swedish people are famous for is being shy and awkward around strangers in normal day to day situations, but oddly enough this did not happen there. On the contrary they were chatting away in Swedish, so I did not understand a word, but my friends managed to hold a conversation as they are both fluent in the language. Apparently they talked about everything from cultural comparisons to society and so on, all this whilst completely naked. I was left startled. As you can see the British/Victorian sense of prudishness is something hard to overcome, but I’m working on it!