Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Have you ever wondered what the common saunas in Finnish apartment buildings are like? Well, here's an informative video of it! The action starts around 3:35.

Here are some phrases that you might need in a sauna:

  • Onko sauna jo lämmin? - Is the sauna warm already?
  • Täällä on tilaa. - There's space in here. (A larger area, for example the whole top bench.)
  • Tässä on tilaa. - There's space in here. (A smaller area, perhaps enough for just one person right next to you.)
  • Voinko mä heittää lisää löylyä? - Can I throw more water on the rocks?
  • Voisitko tuoda lisää vettä? - Could you bring more water?
  • Onpa kuuma! - Man, it's hot!
  • Nyt riittää! - Now it's enough!
  • Minä käyn suihkussa. - I'll take a shower. 
  • Minä käyn avannossa. - I'll take a dip in the hole in the ice. 
  • Minä menen uimaan. - I'll go to swim. 
  • Voisitko pestä mun selän? - Could you wash my back?

Nowadays the new apartment buildings seem to have individual saunas instead of a common one in the basement or in the attic. That's kind of shame in my opinion, because having a sauna together is a fun way of getting to know your (same sex) neighbours, and not everyone takes a sauna every day anyway, so it's not very friendly to nature to have so many tiny saunas. Usually the saunas in the apartments are for 2-4 persons. The space is also handy for drying the laundry or letting pulla dough rise.

If you are ever in Helsinki, you might want to visit Kotiharjun sauna. In Tampere, Rajaportin sauna is the oldest public sauna in Finland.

There are a couple of sayings about sauna:

A lot of house parties and parties with sports teams, choirs etc. include a sauna activity at some point of the evening. In those cases, there  is often someone who suggests sekasauna, a mixed sauna. Just letting you know. Another thing that might surprise you is the fact that in swimming halls, it's totally ok for small children to go to the opposite sex shower room and saunas with their parents. I think the natural age limit for that is 6 or 7, when the kids go to school.

Finally, here's a tragic video about the Sauna World Championships, with subtitles.


Tommy Quist said...

Speaking of the swimming halls... In the Netherlands we would have our own little booths to change in. You would go into a booth alone. or with your family, but you wouldn't walk around naked in front of strangers, so that took some adjusting!

The main objection I get from Finns when mentioning how it was at home, is that this means that we have the pre-swimming showers in our swimwear and that this means we won't be completely clean. I guess they have a point... kind of...

Nick O. said...

I felt also awkward in swimming pool Tommy. But I said ok, let's Finn it up and I was doing fine, until a dad and his small girl came to change, and their locker was beside mine, and the small girl with wide eyes stared at me in details, even though I was more covered than her daddy who was standing with his lil man dangling around freely!
Oh man! It feels weird.

Unknown said...

Great to read other people's experience of sauna and public nudity on a foggy Thursday morn here in the UK :) I have many fond and funny memories of my encounters with Finnish saunas, some of which may not be appropriate to share, but most of which stemmed from genuine cultural differences and are quite funny to look back on. My first ever Finnish sauna with someone other than my then partner was on a work team-building trip, with me (198 cm/6'5'') squeezing into a tiny 2-person sauna with my new mentor, whom I'd just met! (A lovely man, I hasten to add). This was a totally new experience for me and, with the nerves, I ended up burning my hand on the steam from the stove as I poured a giant ladle of löyly in the very confined sauna!

Things are very different in the UK, but the cultures around public nudity, or nudity around strangers at least, do seem to be changing. For example, the gym I go to has a fairly open-plan changing room, with a few cubicles for those with kids, and even a baby cage and changing table. This is common place in the UK, with changing rooms at pools being one of the few places where being naked in front of strangers is deemed acceptable (although, in truth, it's not something that most people are happy about). I think, given the choice, us Brits would much rather stay clothed in front of our peers, and even our family members!

By the end of my time in Finland (eight years all-told), I was pretty much aclimatised to sauna life (even experiencing a few sekasaunoja!) and I now really miss being able to run straight from the sauna into the lake in my birthday suit! ;-)

Hanna said...

Oh, yes, I forgot the work team-building saunas! And even if the men and women had separate saunas, the lake is still the same for everyone. Women may want to put on a swimming suit for the swimming part, but as far as I remember, the men rarely would. Vai mitä, Michael?

Hanna said...

Walk around naked in front of strangers, that's what we do.:) If you're lucky, you have a neighbour who likes to cool off after sauna naked in his yard.

They actually just fixed the sexual harassment law so that it's ok to swim naked, too.

Anonymous said...

Motivating and eye-opening. Saunas assistance a great deal.