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  • Ben, I'm sure you knew I could not resist this.


    Some of my earliest memories are from the family sauna. Like many other Finnish families, we had a weekly sauna time reserved from the sauna of the apartment building where we lived. Friday and Saturday evenings were the popular times, the newcomers would have to settle for Thursday or Wednesday.

    My parents and I would wear our terrycloth robes and carrying towels and shampoos walk down the stairs to the basement where the sauna was. I remember sitting in a little wash basin filled with cold water with my little knees curled against my chest, down in the lower benches, when my parents were sitting higher up where it was hotter. After sauna we would have a treat, maybe ice cream or some soda, and watch tv together or play cards or board games.

    When I was a kid we spent a lot of time in summers with my aunts, uncles and cousins from my father's side, in the summer place that used to be a part of the old family farm. Almost every day someone would heat up the sauna. The adults would sit in the sauna, chatting quietly and throwing water to the stones. First the women, later the men, or the other way around.

    We, the children, would swim the whole day and every now and then run to the sauna, teeth chattering more often than not. We would be welcome and did not care whether it was the aunts or uncles there. We would sit in the lower benches for a while to get warm, then back to the lake. When someone grew old enough to start to feel self-conscious, it was time to join the adults' sauna. Although we would still swim and play with the smaller kids in the water.

    In university the sauna was part of the social life, the afterparties of the student festivities often ended up in the sauna. Sometimes the actual party was in the sauna. In my university the culture was to go to sauna in mixed company, and some people wore swimsuits, some did not. After a while, most did not. This is probably why the couples from each year were formed in the beginning of the studies. After a while we had all seen each other naked, sweaty and somewhat drunk in a very un-sexual situation multiple times, and it would have been just too weird to hook up after that. It would have been like dating your cousin.

    Public swimming pools are very popular in Finland in winter time. Swimming pool saunas have a great variety of people. I have heard that on the men's side one could hear war stories in the old times. On the women's side there are interesting discussions as well, but the best part for me is to see the women in all the different shapes and sizes relaxing in the steam side by side. Our daughters grow up knowing that most people indeed do not look like the ones on magazine covers.

    In few weeks I will fly to Finland for my summer holidays. My husband and daughter will pick me up from the airport and we will drive to my parents' summer house, which is in the picture. Sauna door is on the right hand side. I look forward to going to the sauna with my mother and my daughter, chatting, washing each other's backs, helping to rinse my daughter's hair and sitting afterwards on the terrace with wet hair, red cheeks and cold soda.
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