3 Ways I Embarrassed Myself at the German Sauna

Photo: Erin Porter

About to get N-A-K-E-D

Don’t worry guys, I brought a towel to sit (and sweat) on in the sauna and didn’t try to wear my swimsuit into the nude areas. I’m not a German sauna newbie. I’ve been once before.

That one time was at touristy Tropical Island. I highly recommend it if you are also a spa novice. It is a full-on water park with slides and waterfalls and artificial beach front. But deep in its center lies an area cloaked in palm trees and signs barring entry for those under 16. We waffled back and forth if we were actually going into this adult-only zone before putting on our big boy pants (or taking them off, in this case) and entering.

As Germans consider regular spa going a part of good health and not a luxury, the average Germ knows what to do in the sauna. Not so for a couple of expats from Seattle. We clumsily felt our way through the process of showering, storing our clothes in a cubby and dramatically dropping the towel to enter a steamy room full of naked Germans. And – no surprise for those who’ve done it before – it wasn’t so bad! We emerged thoroughly moist and with muscles that had deeply relaxed so that we were basically moving puddles. It was fabulous.

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10 Ways That Europe is Different from the USA

First, let me tell you about the inspiration for today’s blog post.

Recently a friend suggested that I read what turned out to be a rather disheartening rant published by an online expat website. (The names shall remain anonymous in order to protect the guilty.) The writer, an American lady, was complaining about her life in Germany, a lament brought on by a recent visit to her local Apotheke (pharmacy). She was whining about the fact that she had to take the extra time and trouble to consult with a German pharmacist (in German of all things) in order to obtain a medication that she could have bought over the counter in the US.

Bikes and pedestrians

Germans and other Europeans walk and ride bikes more often than Americans.
PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Several people left comments pointing out that the German system actually provided the benefit of helpful, professional advice that would have required a visit to the doctor in the US. True, you can’t just go to a supermarket and buy a bottle of aspirin in Germany, but you can go to your local Apotheke and get sound advice about which pain reliever would be best for your situation. While living or traveling in Germany and Austria, I have made several trips to the pharmacist to get help with a medical problem. In every case, the pharmacist either provided a good solution or, in one case, told me to see a physician. (What I thought was a sprained finger turned out to be a broken one.) Continue reading

The Naked Truth

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!

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Starting them young: Germans and Nudity and PEKiP

<em>Baby Stella developing faster in the buff</em>

Baby Stella developing faster in the buff

One of the aspects of German culture which we Americans often find so shocking is the prevalent open attitude towards nudity, otherwise known as naturalism. One of my good German friends is a big sauna goer and explained once to a group of us that her whole family was into it. This raised alarm bells with the other Americans there. “Wait, even your father is naked?” “Where do you look when he’s naked?” “Don’t you feel uncomfortable at all that strangers can see you naked?”

In the spirit of exploring my new culture further, I think I have found a “naturalism for beginners” course for my baby daughter.

Many mothers and fathers throughout Germany have participated in a weekly activity for babies: the Prager-Eltern-Kind Programm or PEKiP for short. When telling my mother what my younger daughter Stella and I do every Thursday morning, I refer to PEKiP as “naked baby play group.” Basically, we meet weekly with a group of seven other mothers and their babies, born within a month of each other, with a trained instructor for 90 minutes. This group stays together from the beginning (first few months) till age one. Continue reading