As you may have figured out, I'm Scandinasian. I have roots in Taiwan and Sweden. With other words, I'm not from Finland. One of the consequences of being from elsewhere than Finland, is that I don't have as much authority to write about the culture surrounding saunas. However, I feel prompted to speak up.
Even though saunas are inherently Finish, as a Swede you are exposed to saunas from an early age. Most public swimming pools have a sauna facility, many people have saunas in their homes and many Scandinavians will at some point have made the run to a sauna after a quick dip in a freezing lake or after rolling around naked in snow.
There are "rules" surrounding saunas. At a public swimming pool, usually there will be a sauna for men and one for women. You are expected to change out of your bathing suit, shower and only bring a towel into the sauna. As for your private sauna at home or by the lake, it's pretty much the same rule. Since it's usually for both men and women, you're as naked as you feel comfortable with and you bring a towel.
I like saunas. They are not as easy to find in the US as they are in Sweden. So I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my 24 Hour Fitness have a sauna as well as a steam room. Since they are for both men and women it was obvious that everyone would be wearing their swimming attire. Or so I thought...
First of all, the sauna was packed! Only a minority of people were wearing their bathing suits/trunks. The majority of people came straight from the gym floor. After a work out. All covered in sweat. Still wearing their gym cloths. And still in their sneakers! What?!?
I realize that this might seem totally normal to some people, this might even be the norm in the US. But to me, it was too bizarr. I understand that the whole point of being in a sauna is to sweat and that I shouldn't be bothered by gym sweat, but gym sweat and sauna sweat is not the same thing (don't ask me why). I couldn't even make myself go in.
To my relief, the steam room did live up to my expectations. First of all, it wasn't too packed. Secondly, the dress code was as anticipated. It all made sense and I could finally sit down, lean back and relax.
Until today, when I went back to the steam room. It was packed! And people came straight from the gym floor. After a work out. All covered in sweat. Still wearing their gym cloths. And still in their sneakers! This made no sense at all! I can almost wrap my head around my sauna experience, and that being a cultural difference, but sitting fully clothed in a steam room is not rational. Why would you want to get all of your cloths drenched and why on earth would you want to steam your shoes?
I don't know where I'll go from here. The winter is fast approaching. Maybe I'll just have to do without saunas and steam rooms. But I guess I shouldn't complain. At least I can substitute the sauna with some reliable Californian sun.