Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Finnish Culture: Walking and Sweating

Two rather significant parts of Finnish culture that I´ve noticed is walking and sweating.  No, they are not done at the same time.

Everyone one in Finland walks, if it´s logical.  Unlike the USA, most towns are more clustered together so that walking is feasible.  It´s also extremely safe.  There are seem to be almost as many walking/biking roads are there are roads for cars.

In Kerava--my Finnish home--all the walking streets come with these nifty signs which designate what side of the road walkers should use and what side bikes should use.  As you can see, these "roads" fall somewhere between an actual street and a sophisticated sidewalk.  Because of the walking, you see a lot less cars on the road.  Additionally, it´s definitely an incentive to drive less when gas is about $10 a gallon. Being able to walk most places (and the availability of public transport) is something I value in Finland and wish I could do in the USA.

On the subject of walking, Nordic walking is a popular sport/pastime in Finland.  It´s walking with sticks.  I´m not sure the purpose of the sticks, but my theory is that it engages your arm muscles.  The Finns Nordic walk in the winter- and summertime.

Finns also like to sweat for fun.  At first, I was unsure.  I get my fair share of sweating during the most of the year in Tennessee. But during the winter in Finland, you almost never sweat, and sweating is good for the body.  It helps flush out toxins.  I have no idea if its health benefits and the weather had anything to do with the cultural tradition.  Sauna is a staple in Finnish life.  Most apartment buildings and houses have one.  Those who have summer cottages have a sauna there as well.  The university I work for even has a sauna on campus.

These are pictures of the sauna I use at home.  My boyfriend actually built it himself, and he is very proud of it.  To get to it, you walk through the bathroom.  As you can see, it is made entirely of wood and has an electric stove filled with stones.  The temperature usually runs around 70-80*C.  I´ve only been to sauna about 4 or 5 times.  The first time, I felt that this was not for me.  But each time, I get more and more used to it.  At the moment, I can last around 15-20 minutes.  Sitting in a hot room dripping in sweat is still a very new concept to me.

Saunas are usually gender-oriented.  Men go with men and women go with women.  Of course, couples, spouses, parents with children, etc. tend to go together as well.  Everyone usually goes naked, unless you are a group of foreigners, in which case you most likely will wear bathing suits.

I´ve been told that one way to see what a Finn is made of is by going to sauna and then going rolling in the snow.  Some Finns even take a naked dip in a hole in a frozen lake! Nope, nope, nope, not for me.  I´m good taking a slightly cold shower afterwards.

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