Moving from Germany to the US about three years ago gave me at least one culture shock. This article is about sauna and bathing facilities and a sauna culture which I really enjoyed in my German life. While others practice meditation or yoga, a nice day spa is my way to recover from busy urban life.
Finnish-style sauna and similar sweat bathing facilities in the world
The Finnish-style sauna (generally 70–80 °C (158–176 °F)), but can vary from 60 to 120 °C (140–248 °F) and the wet steam bath are the most widely known forms of sweat bathing.
Many cultures have or had close equivalents, such as the North American First Nations (in Canada) or Native American (in the United States) sweat lodge (Navajo: Inipi, Anishanabe: madoodiswan), the Karo oukup (Indonesia), the Turkish or Arab hammam, Roman thermae, Maya temazcal, Russian banya, Estonian sauna, the Jewish Shvitz, African Sifutu, Swedish bastu, Japanese Sento / Onsen, and the Korean jjimjilbang.
Born and raised in Germany I am very much accustomed to the Finnish-style sauna, experiencing temperatures about 80 to 100 °C (176–212 °F), mostly in public swimming pool complexes or day resorts, which often feature a dozen or more different types of saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, swimming pools, nice relaxation areas, gardens and restaurants. Beauty treatments and different types of massages can usually be booked as well. In Germany nudity is strictly enforced in public saunas, as is the covering of benches with towels. Sometimes separate single-sex saunas for both genders are available, but many places just offer mixed-gender saunas, or organize women-only (sometimes men-only) days for the sauna once a week. Loud conversation is not usual as the sauna is seen as a place of healing rather than socializing.
Well, as you can imagine growing up with these rigid and enforcing rules and then learning about the casual manner in the US and Canada was and sometimes still is a culture shock. Unfortunately North American facilities have no consistent restrictions; while nudity is forbidden in mixed-gender areas, in single-sex areas bathers may enter and exit the sauna as they please: be it nude, with a towel, dripping wet in swimsuits or even in workout clothes. Yes, I have seen it all. I learned and believe that wearing clothes such as wet swimsuits – or even worst – workout clothes including shoes (I saw that at various gyms!), not only will destroy the sterile environment, which is created by the extensive heat of a sauna. I think the conditions in those places are not very hygienic and it demolishes the whole idea of sauna bathing (at least for me personally).
While living in New York City I had a really hard time to find places, which are comparable to the facilities I know from Germany. I visited quite a few locations, but it was often very disappointing. I learned that Russian, Korean and Finnish saunas are usually quiet good facilities with at least some kind of similar standards no matter where in North America. Hotels and gyms have extremely different rules, sauna temperatures (sometimes as low as 37°C / 99°F) and customs.
While having this experience I hope our sauna directory can help you to find the right places.
This is my German side of the story, but as a great addition I want highly recommend the following article - Naked In German Saunas: A North American Woman’s Perspective
Photo Credits Deutsch: Geysirhöhle By Therme Erding.Studi85 at de.wikipedia (Therme Erding) CC-BY-SA-3.0-de