I went to the kallbadhus the other day. It’s a Swedish thing. A municipal sauna and sea bathing spot at the end of a jetty. They are dotted along Malmö beachfront. A sign in the saunas advises the visitor that swimwear is not allowed.
Sharp intake of breath
They say nothing helps you see your own culture like going abroad. Removing your clothes in public is just something the English don’t do. I’d never particularly considered this fact until confronted with an alternative.
Last summer in Ibiza, I went naked on a beach. At first, I was terrified I would shock or insult someone with my naked manhood. The same sense of contravening a taboo lingered on the air at the kallbadhus.
A good Swedish slap
It’s what made the whole experience – including six invigorating immersions in the Oresund – so pleasurable. The utter, languid, Saturday morning casualness of the whole affair.
You leave your shoes at the front door. You leave your clothes and bags on the benches in the locker room (of a municipal changing rooms – what, no theft?!). You take one pocket-sized towel to place your bottom upon in the sauna.
You step into the sauna to discover not only men enjoying a moment’s calm sweating, but women, too. The sexes mixing naked – have you ever heard of the like? And doing so with nonchalant indifference.
Dinosaurs love underpants
It’s the name of my son’s favourite book. It’s funny. And so English. With accompanying audiobook read by Rik Mayall.
“It all began when cavemen felt embarrassed in the nude, so someone dreamt up underpants to stop them looking rude”Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman & Ben Cort
That’s a line I love, and find difficult to explain to a four-year-old. Is this a caveman trait? If so, why doesn’t it affect the Swedes?
It must be the pent up English Christian issue. All that shame and sin. But then, the Swedes do Lutheranism better than anyone.
Just where does the naughtiness of nudity come from for the English? Who knows, but it’s been called out for me at the kallbadhus.
Up for another dip? Read about The Baltic Cure For Fear