This story was shared with me by Dina, an American who learned the joys of Sauna partying in Finland.
Life in Finland
When my husband signed his contract to become an expat employee in Finland I did not know how important sauna was to Finnish life. Eager to prep for our adventure I read the “Welcome to Finland” booklet from our company which included sections about history, language, culture, daily life and a section titled “Finnish Sauna: a national institution”. I was enthusiastic until I came to these lines: If you are honored enough to be invited to a Finn’s home, know that you may be expected to join your hosts for Sauna -naked! If you decline your hosts may be insulted. What? I didn’t sign up for this!
After arriving in Finland we discovered it would be as odd to find a home without a sauna as it would be to find one without a toilet. Every home had a sauna. The private sauna in our home was beautiful but we didn’t know how to turn on the stove or how to sauna bathe. Truth be told, I didn’t even like to sweat but we were determined to immerse ourselves in the culture. So we gave it a go, and we were quickly hooked. Then came the invite to a company sponsored “Sauna BBQ” at a small lakeside cottage. Could we? Would we have to be naked with co-workers in a sauna?
Our first Finnish sauna party
After asking around at work my husband was told that everyone would don swimwear. Whew! So 15 – 20 of us crammed onto two levels of benches and any available standing room. We talked about work, cultural differences, told jokes, argued about which country’s beers were best. The birch wood burned in the sauna stove for hours. We relished the steam coming off the stones. We cooled off in the lake. We listened to music, drank, laughed and shared an international potluck feast. I had never been to any company party where I left so happy and relaxed – or made more friends.
Spreading the love of Sauna in America
After two years and many sauna experiences we were back to America. I was determined to educate my friends back in Pittsburgh about the appeal of Sauna. I saved an article about a company with a mobile sauna (Warm Timber Saunas) and was delighted to find out they were right in our Pittsburgh area. So we booked the mobile sauna for a summer “Welcome back, Finnish sauna party.” Before the party we shared stories with our friends about our sauna experiences in Finland. We have some adventurous friends but weren’t sure if they would all be up for sharing a sauna. We set up a wading pool, prepared Finnish food along with burgers and sausages, plenty of cold drinks and asked everyone to bring swimwear – just in case they decided to try the sauna with us.
When the sauna arrived my husband and I knew we would have to lead the way. I took off my coverup, rinsed off under an outside shower provided by Warm Timber Saunas, and hopped in the mobile sauna. Our friends were amused, curious or both. My husband joined me and we sighed with delight. I wanted to cry. We had a little bit of Finnish paradise right in our own driveway. After a time I exited the sauna bathed in sweat and with my now reddish complexion stepped under the shower to cool off. All our guests, socializing around tables fully clothed, just kind of laughed.
But then one by one they began to don their swimsuits and head for the sauna. Throughout the evening both adults and kids headed in and then out of the sauna to splash under the shower. At times there was a waiting line to get in the sauna. They began to understand our love of sharing sauna together. None had ever imagined in a million years that they would attend a Finnish sauna party in a Pittsburgh driveway! Warm Timber Saunas made another visit during the winter for another event and our guests were now looking forward to the party with no trepidation. Now they all want to know when the next party will be and when we will build our own sauna. My response? Not soon enough!