05 September 2006

A little Dutch lesson on modesty

Yesterday I went to the pool/spa next door to the hotel in celebration of my extremely productive day at work. As I was being escorted into the locker room, the attendant told me that the swimming pool was strictly no-swimsuits-allowed (and mixed gender) this time of day. I'd heard rumors of this naked spa-going from one of my Dutch co-workers but other Icelandic colleagues had never mentioned this. Apparently there is an unwritten rule in the company that each new Icelandic visitor to the Dutch office must discover it for themself.

Not to be daunted, I headed into the pool area, feeling slightly like I was in the wrong place since all I could see was men. The pool was very short (maybe 12 meters)- perfect for practicing flip turns, which was on my agenda for the day. I had a good rhythm going when I was joined by some lazily swimming men and one woman. Lemme tell you- nothing breaks up the flow like being behind a naked man on the out-kick of a breaststroke. Good anatomy lesson.

After a rousing (and educational) swim, I headed to the other delights of this subterranean sauna. There was a jacuzzi with some jets placed to fizz upward from the seats (not going to contemplate this construction choice too much right now...), two temperatures of dry sauna, an infrared muscle sauna, two deep cool-water plunge pools, a Turkish steam sauna, and a variety of shower/deluge techniques for cooling down after all that heat. There was even a bar area where you could throw back a beer or two in your towel.

In keeping with my Icelandic-created tradition, I went directly to the steamroom, which was a genteel little cousin of the Icelandic steam-blasting rooms. The steam here issued gently from a single square hole like a Voice From the Deep every few minutes and billowed to fill the room, just after a set of nozzles on the upper wall rinsed the walls and seats with cool water (to get off all that naked body-sweat, I guess).

After the steam I tried the cooling area- the wooden bucket with a rope to send a massive splash down your shoulders, the supercharged cold shower, and my favorite (but sadly not working), a sort of rainforest experience where the water dripped from an installation of fake plants and blooms on the ceiling. Another trip to the dry sauna, and back to the cold showers, a sampling of the jacuzzi, and I was done.

Overall I'm glad I had the introduction to semi-public nudity in Iceland, becasue this everyone's-nekkid thing IS a little peculiar at first, and when I acquired an overenthusiastic "tour guide" who wanted to show me around the sauna and buy me a drink, then get my phone number and my room number (and when I claimed to have forgotten them all, wanted to go UP to my room to get them), I did wonder if the nakedness creates a false sense of intimacy with your fellow sauna-goers.

Still, the facilities were superb, if a little gloomy in their window-free basement location, and I think I would probably go back again next time I am here. Still gonna wear the goggles though, no matter what the must-be-naked rules say.

Ship sighting: I am always thinking about boats in spite of all this bare flesh... I saw a canal boat yesterday that is actually a working art supply store. Awesome. This country is definitely a worthy second home of the Harbor Watch.


Christian Luijten said...

Hæ, ég heiti Christian, er frá Niðurlöndum og hef lesað dagbók þín nokkrar mánuði.

Í Ágúst, ég var að læra íslensku á Háskóla Íslands og ég er að vinna á Háskólanum í Reykjavík núna.

Yes, learning a bit of Icelandic was great fun! Too bad it is so hard to speak and understand on the street.

The reason I comment now is of course your nice post about nakedness in the swimming pool...

Hehe, I had the reversed experience here too of course during the last month, be it a little bit less confronting :) I like the chlor-less water, I think they should introduce mandatory pre-showering in Holland, too...

Well, just wanted to introduce myself, take care, have fun in Amsterdam and keep on writing nice stuff! Bless.

Ah yes, I have to ask you, "How do you like the Netherlands?"

Liz said...

This reminded me of the first time I went to an onsen in Japan. :) Except that we were usually segregated by sex. That masher trying to get your number was funny- false sense of intimacy indeed!

dtw said...

Heh, I can understand the feeling of peculiarity. I don't know whether it's the guide or just the idea of strictly naked policy, but it does sound a little dubious. And foreigners in general are wondering how open the Finnish sauna culture is.

Still from top of my head, I can't think of any places where you couldn't go for a swim or even sauna in full clothing if you liked, and pools and such always have separate saunas and bathrooms for men and women.

I think the most difficult thing to foreign sauna newcomers is to get over the thought that there should be absolutely no intimacy involved even if you're sitting next to other naked people. I wonder what the Dutch think about that. :)

The Prima said...

I'm ashamed to report this post was the most edge-of-my-seat blog reading in weeks. What a crazy experience!

It's too bad about the jerk who ended up stalking you.

Anonymous said...

No one will ever see me naked, lol. Having been raised in the American South, it would be really hard for me to go to such a place (the spa). However, I think it's great that others can, and enjoy themselves.

ECS said...

hæ Christian- I have wondered what it is like to go the other direction from this kind of birthday-suit mentality to having to cover up. When I went to this place though, I realize now that I showered without even thinking before I went into the pool. I absolutely agree that it should be required everywhere!

and I love the Netherlands. It's a great contrast to Iceland, as you well know.

Liz-- there is enough nudity in the locker rooms in Iceland, and that has become absolutely normal to me now. It obviously shocks a few visitors though, and those of us who live there are always curious about the tourists who are trying to change entirely inside their towels.

DTW- so is the Finnish experience the same or is it segregated by gender? As for the Must Not Wear a Suit, I think my tourguide might have been exaggerating slightly but I definitely didn't see anyone in a stitch of clothing.

Plo- you should go to Holland and give it a try for the real thrill! The guy wasn't really stalking me though- if he'd ended up hanging on a rope outside my hotel window, THEN I would say he's a stalker.

and to the Southern Anonymous commenter- It's actually quite liberating, but I do suggest starting somewhere like Iceland first so it's at least people your own gender. It's surprising how quickly you can get used to it.

dtw said...

Oops, pushed Publish before I had written everything...

Naturally the pools and beaches themselves are for both sexes, but before that it's segregated. Usually if you're going to an inside pool, there are separate entrances for men and women. Boys have their own changing rooms and saunas, girls have their own changing rooms and saunas. Both naturally lead to the same pools but you can have a sauna and then slip into your swimsuit without having to show yourself to the opposite gender. I'd suppose it's pretty much like this in Iceland too?

Family saunas are a slightly different thing. In some families all the men and women are used to going together, usually there are separate women's turns and men's turns. I still sometimes go to sauna with two of my female cousins who are at my age, and we never had to ask any questions if we still can do it without blushing or hiding. It's still as natural as it was ten years ago.

cK said...

Well, the leches suck. I think we're all in agreement about that. But, in general, posts like this are really fascinating for an American reading audience. Your spa episodes highlight one of the chief differences between the US and much of the world: in the US, we have no division between sensuality and sexuality.

This may be the single greatest reason for our disastrous body issues; and it's the one thing we never talk about, precisely because culturally the difference isn't even known.

I plan on visiting an onsen in Japan during my two weeks there. I plan on it. But can I get myself there? Or will my American ambivalence crush me?

tsduff said...

I do just fine in the locker room same gender nudity - but I'm afraid I would really make an embarassed fool of myself in a mixed open spa. Your post was fascinating, and I will re-read it a few times to absorb everything. I suppose if I didn't worry about my imperfect body I wouldn't have such a hard time - but the idea of being bare in front of boys/men makes me squirm.