There was one very significant event that I happened to omit from my last blog, regarding my recent trip to Davos. In truth, I just wasn’t quite ready to talk about it yet. The incident was somewhat traumatizing, or at least severely uncomfortable, and it left me feeling as though all of the acclimatizing and adapting I had accomplished over the last five years in Europe, was for nothing. Deep breath: I will now go ahead and tell you the tale of three young Canadian women who attempted to spend an afternoon . . . at a Swiss wellness center!
It may not be common knowledge, but anyone who knows a pro hockey player can tell you that the “pre-game nap” is very serious business. So during the Spengler Cup tournament in Davos, us hockey-wives and families had to find things to do outside of the hotel each afternoon before games. On one particularly chilly, snowy day in Davos, two fellow Canadian ladies and I decided to try out Davos’ famous Eau La La wellness center. Some other wives from the team were bringing their kids to swim and so it seemed like a fairly innocent endeavor. When we arrived we were asked if we wanted to join the families in the main pool or try out the adults-only wellness center. Having no children with us, and seeing the screaming hordes of them in the main pool, we opted for the wellness center. We, of course, envisioned what we had known of wellness centers in North America: whirlpools, saunas, footbaths, that sort of stuff. When we entered the locker room however, we immediately knew something was different. In fact, we immediately thought we were in the wrong place. There were men. Naked men!
It could have been a scene out of the Three Stooges, the three of us walking in one after the other, the first stopping abruptly, the other two banging into the one in front. It was a coed locker room. After taking a moment to try and figure this all out, standing there looking like absolute newbies, gawking at the naked people, we attempted to look like we knew what we were doing. We put our shoulders back, heads up, and ran and hid between lockers. We giggled like schoolgirls. We turned bright red. “Ok”, I said, attempting to appear as though I was all cool with this, “let’s get it together”.
We quickly changed into our swimsuits, took a deep breath, and began walking out from our hiding spot. A middle-aged man (which was very apparent from head to toe, if you know what I mean) proceeded to stop us: “Hey!” he shouted, “This is not America. This is Europe. You can not wear a swimsuit!” The three of us were frozen, jaws on the floor, for what felt like forever. I turned to my friends, who are both younger than myself and fairly new to Europe, looking at me with terrified faces, “Yeah right” I said to them, all cavalier, “he just wants to see us naked.” We ignored him and proceeded toward the entrance of the wellness area. But right there on the door was a giant picture of a bikini with a red circle around it and red line right through it, as if put there just for us. My stomach fell. The courage I was faking for the sake of my petrified friends . . . was gone. The man was right. Being naked was mandatory.
We quickly scuttled back to our concealed corner and covered our mouths to stifle the nervous shrills. We wanted to run but felt we couldn’t just give up. We were in too deep and refused to bolt like some kind of close-minded tourists. We had to get into that sauna for at least five minutes, and that’s exactly what we did. We paid a guy, who may or may not have actually worked there, 5 francs each, for towels. We covered ourselves from armpits to shins and walked, eyes to the floor, into the sauna. We sat side by side on the first bench, trying to ignore all that was present on the bench right behind our heads. We faked some relaxing breaths, forced our tense shoulders down from around our ears, fixed our eyes on the wall directly in front of us, and perhaps even enjoyed ourselves for about a minute. It didn’t take long for our ruse to be uncovered however, and the moment an elderly lady (all of her) came and instructed us in very irritated English that we “must take a shower before we enter any of the pools”, we knew our giggling, towel-covered presence was no longer appreciated.
It is well known that in Europe, nudity is just not a big deal. There are breasts on beaches, even on the front pages of many German and Swiss daily newspapers. In Finland, some believe having a nude sauna with one’s children is perfectly appropriate. Nudity is not all about sex. In Canada however, I didn’t grow up with public nudity. In school we didn’t even have to shower after physical education class. Sure, some people in Canada, especially those that play(ed) sports, like my husband, don’t have any issues with being nude in a locker room and showering in public (although coed is pretty unheard of), but those who prefer to go home after a work out to shower are considered perfectly normal as well. This is just a part of our culture, though it may have turned nudity into a bigger deal than it should be. As someone who never played any serious sports and never became used to public nudity, today here in Switzerland, I am the filthy freak that leaves the gym sweaty. Each time I walk out of there I just want to shout, “I swear, I am going home to shower!”
My experience in the wellness center left me with many conflicting feelings. I wish I were brave enough to have enjoyed the saunas and spas the way the Swiss, and many other cultures do. I wish nudity wasn’t so private in North America, making it the sexualized secret is has become. Every day of this expat life I find myself successfully adapting more and more, but this is one area that seems to be continually tripping me up.
On the other hand however, making nudity mandatory in a coed setting seems quite extreme to me either way. It also doesn’t help the adjustment process having intolerant naked people in your personal space trying to force you into it.