Naked Swedes

3 May 2013

Swedes are a lot more laid-back about nudity than Americans. It starts from childhood. It’s perfectly normal for little kids to run around naked at the lake in the summer, which I find cute but tend to find myself concerned about their sun exposure.

At school, since age five, Little Girl has taken group showers once a week after gym with the other little girls. Personally, I think this is kind of weird—it’s not like they get sweaty—but I imagine the idea is to get them accustomed to being undressed around and showering with each other so it won’t be as big a deal in middle school. (I suspect it is still potentially a big deal, but what do I know?) You know, I bet it’s also a way to make sure all the children get bathed at least weekly; that would be a typical Swedish institutional thought.

Grown-ups are naked in front of each other, too. In the ladies’ locker room people saunter about, no towels in sight. Once, while I was helping Little Girl get into her bathing suit for swim class, a totally naked person started talking to me. It turns out I knew her, but since I generally make it a point not to take a good look at naked people around me in the locker room, I hadn’t noticed. And that lady just stood there, chatting, nude, like she didn’t care at all that I was seeing her without her clothes. Which I guess she didn’t!

You are also supposed to be naked in the saunas. They even have a sign, “For everyone’s comfort, please do not wear your bathing suit.” I don’t know about you, but if comfort is what we are after, I would in fact prefer a bathing suit. I’ve been on pool/sauna outings with friends, and just cannot bring myself to sit around naked with them. So, I wrap up in my towel, which obviously just calls even more attention to me than if I were naked like everybody else. And I know nobody actually cares what I look like naked, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

Since everybody is so comfortable with nudity, at public beaches there are no changing rooms. Instead, Swedish people are skilled at simultaneously having a towel wrapped around them and changing in and out of their bathing suits. Well, I say skilled, but some people are definitely better than others. I have seen assorted bits of people exposed during the process. And of course it doesn’t matter. They’re just body parts; everybody’s got them. But I still prefer to wear my wet bathing suit home, instead, and change there. There’s only so much acclimating a person can do.

9 Responses to “Naked Swedes”

  1. Mina Says:

    The Germans are quite the same. There is a huge park in the city where an entire area is dedicated to nudism. So you stroll in there and pass by naked people who don’t just stay naked in the sun, nooooo, they play in the sun. And they don’t play cards or backgammon, noooo, bobs and bits wobble and jiggle while playing volley or what’s the name of that throw-and-catch-a-plastic-plate game? That.
    And, when going to a museum, crossing a bridge over the main city river, one cannot help but see the naked people, only the more prudish ones wearing their bathing suits, lounging on the stones on the bank of the river. Educational walk to the museum indeed.
    They also have a very outdated notion about the benefits of staying in the sun. They must be so starved for the sun, the climate here being what it is, that they overdo it.
    When one goes on holiday in the Spanish isles and sees people like lobsters on two feet, who are a noisy, drunken bother for everyone, one can have an easy way to distinguish English from the Germans: if they are mooning and laugh their fool heads off, they are English. If they are naked and push each other and take your towel off the deck chair while you are in the pool so that they can pass out in the sun, then they are German.
    I know, I sound very judgmental, which I am in this respect, because for the life of me, I cannot understand this behaviour at all. perhaps because I come from a country where I did get sun…

  2. a Says:

    I am not a fan of public nudity. I won’t even use the women’s locker room at our YMCA – they have family changing rooms, so we always use those. I’m all kinds of prudish and repressed.

  3. Christy Says:

    This post made me smile. I would be the same exact way.

  4. Melissa Says:

    Yeah, I would have a hard time chatting with a naked person too! And I would be MUCH more comfortable clothed, even in a bathing suit. That sign baffles me. Why on earth would wearing a suit make anyone uncomfortable? Clearly I am no Swede. :)

    • Antropóloga Says:

      I think they think it is more hygienic somehow if there are no bathing suits (you sit on your towel). Also, they probably want the people who WANT to be naked to feel comfortable. By the way, mostly the sauna has kids and women over 25. I’ve never seen an adolescent in there.

      Sent from my iPhone

      • hanna Says:

        No clothes in the sauna is at least partly because of the chlorine from the water, it vapourizes in the heat and is not healthy to inhale.

        I don’t see any problem at all with nudity, but I’m one of those swedes… :)

  5. Sara Says:

    I have exactly the opposite problem in my husband’s home country. There are modesty conventions there that are mystifying to me. It’s not so much that you need to be all covered up all of the time, but rather that key parts that are not considered private in the USA MUST be covered there. Shirts that don’t come right up to the neck are considered immodest, for example, even if they are long-sleeved, loose, and don’t show any cleavage. Shorts are a no-no (it’s hot there), but miniskirts are fine (?). People wear shorts under their skirts, though, because apparently we need to be constantly vigilant in case of an errant gust of wind originates from the earth below us. Flip-flops are totally appropriate footwear, except that they’re also not. I find getting dressed there exhausting.

  6. Cloud Says:

    Surfers are also amazingly good at changing out of wetsuits in public. It is quit an art. My husband says that in New Zealand, the standard thing is just to open the front and back doors of the car, drape a towel across and change.

  7. Rae Says:

    I just caught up on all your blogs posts! I missed you so much!!!


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