9 Finnish Sauna Rules For The Clueless

I am a Finnish American.
My mom is from Finland, which means she instilled in me a love of lakes, prune cookies, hoarding grocery store bags, Sibelius and above all else: The Sauna. (Capitalized for maximum respect.)

I’m fortunate that my gym has a nice, clean sauna that I use almost daily. It doesn’t matter if it’s 25 or 95 degrees outside. I don’t care. I just love that sauna.

In Finnish lore, it is said that if the spirits of the dead return to earth you will most likely find them in the sauna. Why? Because if they’re going to go through all that effort to come back for a visit, they’re going to hang out in the greatest place on earth. Superstitious Finns will occasionally heat up the sauna just to appease the Sauna Troll. Christmas Eve celebrations traditionally start with having a sauna. In rural areas, children have been born in the sauna. (Not while it was heated, of course.)

In short, the sauna is a Finnish temple.

So I am slightly annoyed with the lack of respect some people have for the temple at my gym. Which is why I’ve taken it upon myself to offer up a few sauna rules for the clueless:

1. It’s pronounced “SOW-NUH”. Say it loud, say it proud.

2. Please don’t draw pictures of genitalia on the wooden benches. What are you? Twelve-years-old? Stop it already. You’re pathetic.

3. Please don’t talk loudly on your cell phone.

4. Actually, please don’t talk on your cell phone at all.

5. Really, excess talking of any kind is unnecessary. There’s a classic joke about an American and a Finn sitting in a sauna together. The American says, “How are you?” The Finn says nothing. Twenty minutes later the American says, “Well, aren’t you going to answer?” So the Finn says, “Are we going to sit here yapping all night?”

6. But singing is completely acceptable.

7. Especially when you’re drinking a bottle of Lapin Kulta.

8. Please don’t cut your toenails, trim your pubic hair or pick and flick your boogers on the floor.

9. If you really want to behave like a native in the sauna, you should sit there sweating and brooding, occasionally swatting yourself with birch branches, contemplating the harsh reality of life, remembering that sunless day in January when you realized your dreams had disappeared.


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