170 degrees in the shade

After four months, I’ve finally gone to a public sauna.

The sauna, and the boys on the side working on the grill.

Stephen and I and two friends went to a local sauna with some other Company people.  I had no idea what to expect.  We knew to wear swimsuits (although most saunas are nude, this one isn’t). I’ve read enough about saunas to know how they operate, and that in Finland it’s customary to go take a dip in the lake to cool down.  I know I’ve been in saunas before at the gym, but this was a different experience.  But more on the sauna later.

While the sauna was heating up, I got to talking to a few of the other people there, including a 14 year old French girl.  She found out I spoke English and wanted to practice hers, and practice she did!  She found out I was from America (was that not obvious?) and she got so excited – “I want to visit America so much.  I want to be famous and go to America.”  I asked her where in America she wanted to visit, expecting to hear New York, or LA, or maybe Texas.


…ummmmm…  “Why Missouri?” I asked.

“I don’t know, we just learned about it in school and I want to visit there, there’s not a lot of people so there’s lots of room.”

Well, there you go.

“Plus I like the desserts.”

“The desserts?”

She wasn’t sure if she had the right word, so she asked her mom in French, then she said, “Yes, the desserts, I think that is the word.”

“Like, what you eat after dinner?”


Now I’m the one confused, and I’ve actually been to Missouri!  “What kinds of desserts do they have?”

“Uuuummmmmm……I can’t think of them now,” she said, slightly embarrassed, I think, about not being able to come up with the English words she needed.

So, I’m still wondering – is Missouri famous for a dessert that I don’t know about?

Okay, onto the sauna part of the evening…

(Read about the Finnish Sauna and customs here)

At most saunas, from my understanding , you shower before you get in, and then you shower after you’re done, and sometimes you shower in the middle to cool down.  The place we were at didn’t have showers, however.

When I entered the sauna, I was instructed to douse myself with water, “to get the sweating process going.”   I got wet and then sat on a wooden bench, sweating, with six other people.  Now, when you say you were sitting hip to hip with people on either side of you, and all of you are literally dripping sweat, it sounds a little odd, right?  But it wasn’t so bad.

After a few minutes (maybe five?  certainly not more than 10) we got up and stepped outside to cool off.  It was, after all, about 80° in there.  That’s Celsius, people.  Before you go and convert it, I can tell you that’s about 175°F.  It was…warm.

Now, a lot of saunas are set on the water – in this case a lake – which makes the cooling off process even easier.  Just go jump in!  I was a little hesitant, because I was actually fairly chilled simply stepping outside.  That was a bit of a surprise – I thought the heat from the sauna would make me a little more impervious to the cold than it did.  But, hey, when in Rome, right?  So off I went to the lake.

That water was cold.  About 14° (57F) I think someone said.  Which, really, was about the same temperature as the air, but it certainly felt colder.  I got about waist deep and simply couldn’t go any further.  (“Armpits!” as my friend would say!)  But after a few minutes, it didn’t feel so bad.  I think that was more because I was numb, but hey…

Back into the sauna.  Back out to the lake.  I figured the second time would be easier – It wasn’t.  One more turn, sauna, lake, then we called it a night.

Just to prove I did it!

Some thoughts on my first sauna:

  • At this point, I don’t really “get it.”  I didn’t feel more relaxed, I didn’t feel cleaner, I didn’t feel as if impurities had been drawn (sweated) out of me.  I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it.  It was just kind of meh.
  • But, of course, I will try it again.  Maybe going in with a better idea of what to expect will help me to enjoy it more.
  • Honestly, at this point, I far prefer going from hot tub to cold pool.  I feel like you retain more of the heat from the hot tub in the cold pool, and it’s more refreshing.  I wouldn’t say the cold lake after the sauna was refreshing, more that it was shocking.  Of course, maybe that’s the point.

So, sauna lovers – am I doing something wrong?  Did I have unrealistic expectations?  What should I do next time to ensure I enjoy it more?

Categories: Finland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “170 degrees in the shade

  1. jenwoodward

    the conversation with the French girl made me laugh. when we were in paris we met some french students one night on the steps of the sacre coeur…when they heard we were american, they were also very excited. they asked what state and i said north carolina expecting them not to know anything about it – they were all very excited…though the reason being that our state gets hurricanes and has good golf. 🙂 who knew missouri had such great desserts? i’ll have to check into that one.
    as for the sauna – perhaps it’s just the culture and the shared experience. if you grow up always doing it, it seems commonplace. but to come in and do it as a foreigner, i’d imagine it would take getting used to.

    • It’s not that I didn’t feel comfortable – it was fine as far as that goes, just different. But that wasn’t why I wasn’t keen on it – I just didn’t get what was so refreshing about it. But maybe with practice… 🙂

  2. I love saunas – the heat, the smell of the wood, the sweating… I really get that sense of being “cleansed”. I must admit I’ve only ever showered afterwards (have never jumped into a lake!) but I do like to turn the shower temperature almost to cold to get that invigorating feeling. I think maybe you just need to try it a few more times 🙂

    • Oh, I’ll definitely be doing it again – and I can’t wait to do it in the winter and actually get into the ice-covered lake! I just wonder if I’ll enjoy it more in the future or not. We’ll see! 🙂

  3. Having grown up in the states but spent every summer in Finland as a child I can tell you that sauna is an acquired taste if it is new. Give it a few tries. It’s better when you have cold beer and grilled “makara” (sausages) after. Or, in some cases, Finns like to drink while in the sauna…which I do not recommend! (Though the “long drink” is not bad in that setting a sit is very sweet and refreshing I find.) One trick my grandmother taught me as a child is to take a bucket/pail of super cold/icy even water in with you, dunk your feet in it (you can stay in the sauna longer) but also your legs get all tingly and it gets your circulation going. Anyhow, it’s fun, though most Finns probably think that’s wimpy and may frown upon it.

    Good to see you went in the water. It was hard getting my American husband to do it but when he did, he thought it was great. There is something invigorating about those first few steps.

    I’ll be visiting family in Helsinki next week and one of the things I’m most looking forward to is sauna!

    • We actually had sausage and beer *before* going into the sauna, because there were too many people there. I should have had one afterwards, too. Oh, the long drink! I usually order that in the bars, because it’s more refreshing (and not as heavy) as beer.

      Hmmm…bucket of cold water for feet. I’ll have to try that. Thanks!

  4. great post! loved it!
    i must confess… the sauna is really not for me. i have tried and tried. i spent 3 weeks in the far reaches of lapland 2 summers ago. i went to the sauna every evening for 21 days it was the only source of bathing so i had no other real choices… i MUST bathe every day.
    i never really enjoyed the whole sauna experience but i sure gave it an honest try. the best part for me was the cold beer.
    we have a sauna in our building we have access to and i just don’t do it. i’m okay with not embracing it although it’s almost a scandal to say so in mixed company.
    hope you are having a great summer!

    • Thanks, Tracie! I still need to figure out how to use the one in our building – I’m not sure if we need to sign up or not….

  5. Pingback: Reflections – 6 months in Finland | Embrace Life. Be Inspired. In Finland.

  6. anonymous

    Sauna is about relaxation. Less than 10 minutes? Really? You’re supposed to take your time.

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