When in Rome you take your cues from the Romans, but when in Finland, you do as the Finns and you sauna.
The sauna is a hugely integral part of Finnish culture, so we've rounded up some quick facts and fun pointers about this national pastime.
A sauna in every home
Finland's population of 5 million boasts 3 million saunas among them. That's one per household! In larger cities public saunas are still around, as well, so you won't have to look very far to enjoy the experience. Finns tend to sauna at least once per week, with Saturday being the traditional day to partake in the activity.
Get naked (or not)
Taking a sauna is akin to taking a bath or shower, and you don't do either of those things in your swimsuit, do you? Finns are raised to be comfortable in the nude with one another, so it's no big deal for them to strip down and sauna in groups (generally women and men sauna separately, with the exception of family members).
If you ere on the side of modesty, then feel free to wrap up in a towel or don that swimsuit. Finns may find it odd but they won't shame you for it.
You do what with those branches?
The sauna experience is a cleansing one, and a traditional part of the process is gently whipping oneself with a bundle of fresh birch branches. This action serves the dual purpose of softening the skin and improving circulation.
As you can imagine, sitting in a heated room for any stretch of time will make you sweat. So it's important to stay well-hydrated while you sauna. Rarely will you see a Finn on route to sauna without a couple of cold beverages in tow — more likely than not it'll be beer or cider. And what better way to fill your belly while you cleanse your body and mind than with a makkara (Finnish for sausage)?
While many cultural stereotypes are easily disproved, the old chestnut about Finns being a rather quiet bunch is undeniable. And silence in the sauna is particularly important. You won't be hearing any new-age spa soundtracks pumped into the room, and you should generally keep your conversations quiet so as to respect others taking their sauna with you.
Respect that post-sauna glow
The feeling one gets after spending time in the sauna is one of utter relaxation. With the mind and body thouroughly cleansed and relaxed, many choose to do absolutely nothing for a good portion of the day afterward. This post-sauna time, called saunanjälkeinen in Finnish, is when you absolutely must respect somebody's wishes to just be alone, enjoying the afterglow.
Are you as mad about sauna as the Finns? Check out the amazing packages offered by Nordic Visitor. We'll show you the best of Finland and maybe even toss in another Nordic wonder or two with a combo trip!
This post is part of our "A little something" series, in which we take a crack at explaining Nordic phenomenon or cultural quirks in bite-sized pieces.