So I didn’t really quite know what the protocol was, so I just laid there … froze … in my bikini, and my robe, and my towel and my slippers. And these guys came in and I’m like, “I can handle this.” One is sitting [on my right] one is sitting [on my left] and they drop their towels. They are butt naked. … They were naked and I’m in the middle of them kind of looking back and forth [out of the corners of my eyes] at them thinking “How am I going to get out of here without being rude?” I look over and I realize, oh my God, yes, it is confirmed there are balls on wood. I mean not just naked, but balls on wood, Dave! That’s not okay!
This is a horrifying story, with etiquette violations on both sides.
Perhaps knowing about Ms. Biel’s experience, Yahoo Germany recently published a handy reference, “Sauna Etiquette: How Naked is too Naked?” Let’s take a look at the proper etiquette for the sauna in a German-speaking country like Austria.
- Attire: Shame and swimwear are two things that don’t belong in the sauna. It is clear the Austrian men had neither shame nor swimwear, while Ms. Biel had both.
+2 Austrian Men, -2 Ms. Biel
- Hygiene: While in the sauna, you should have a large towel to sit on, and not place your bare bottom on the wooden boards. According to Ms. Biel, she was well covered and the men had “balls on wood”.
-1 Austrian Men, +1 Ms. Biel
- Slippers: Slippers are left outside the sauna where they can’t be tripped over, not worn inside. Ms. Biel does not mention her sauna companions’ footwear, but clearly mentions hers.
0 Austrian Men, -1 Ms. Biel
- Good Courtesy: The etiquette rules state that when entering the sauna you should greet those already inside it, and ask if the place is free before taking a seat next to someone. The Austrian men apparently did not do this, and Ms. Biel’s body language, should have made it obvious that she was uncomfortable with them near her personal space.
-1 Austrian Men, 0 Ms. Biel
- Look, but Don’t Stare: Yes, everyone is naked, but you don’t need to keep your eyes glued to the floor or another area where you won’t catch sight of one of your fellow sauna-goers. A look around is acceptable, so long as your eyes don’t linger and stare. Ms. Biel made it a point not to stare, and the two men never seemed to realize they were sharing their sauna with the star of the A-Team, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Illusionist.
+1 Austrian Men, +1 Ms. Biel
So in the sauna etiquette battle, the naked Austrians edge out Jessica Biel +1 to -1. It’s still a dismal performance all around.
We’d be interested to hear which sauna (or hotel) Ms. Biel had her experience at and see if the two gentlemen she encountered would be willing to tell their side of the story.
I’d been so forewarned by other Americans that the German saunas are textilfrei (i.e., no bathing suits allowed) that I didn’t bother to take one with me at all when I visited the Therme Erding in Munich. After I traveled quite a ways on public transportation to get there, there was no way I was going back to get a bathing suit after I finding out that there was a textilfrei part and another part that allowed bathing suits!
I have to say, it was an empowering experience.
If you would like to read more about sauna etiquette, you can read the original Yahoo article, or visit the source — the German Etiquette site Knigge.de (both in German). Frau A does a great job of translating the essence of these articles on Schnitzelbahn. Of course, you can also read the SaunaScape take on the proper ways to experience the German Sauna, or see a video of what one is really like.
If you want to see the Jessica Biel segment, here it is: