Sauna..for most people the sauna might sound like a luxury, a special treat or something very exotic. For us Finns the sauna is a part of normal everyday life. Finns have a saying, Sauna is the cure for all illnesses”. It’s a necessity, not a luxury. For the five million inhabitants of Finland, there are over 2 million saunas! That makes for almost a sauna per household ratio.
Saunas are everywhere. You will find saunas in almost every house, in some newer city apartments, Apartment buildings’ basements, at health clubs, public pools, summer cottages,in hotel rooms etc. There are electric saunas, wood-heated saunas, smoke saunas, barrel saunas, sauna boats, balcony saunas, smart saunas, infrared saunas.. The favorite and most traditional form of sauna for the Finns is wood-heated stove sauna, where water is thrown on the hot rocks piled on top of the stove. This creates a soft enveloping steam into the sauna.
The traditional Finnish sauna has a specific way it needs to be heated and there are some rather peculiar traditions and practices involved, especially weird and fascinating, even scary for the first time sauna-goer. Finns take pride in their saunas and foreigners will without exception be invited for a sauna session.
The Finnish FIL’s have a reputation of “testing” the foreign spouses of their daughters in the sauna to see how “manly” they are. This is of course done tongue-in-cheek, but nevertheless it’s best to be prepared!
Here’s a humorous “Finnish sauna-making guide ” for all the foreign son-in-laws out there!
If you are a foreign guy (even more so if you’re Arab or Saudi) married to a Finnish woman, be prepared for the ultimate acid test when you land on Finnish soil. The FIL’s will surely have their fingers itching to get you into the sauna to test out your manhood and compatibility with your Finnish spouse.
Do not sweat(no pun intended). Here’s a step by step guide to survive your first sauna ordeal with flying colors. By following these instructions you will prove yourself worthy of his Finnish daughter.
After landing in Finland you will immediately be taken from the airport to the summer cottage for survival camp.
Be warned that there will be no running water, plumbing or even electricity in some cases.
Upon arrival act calm and ask where the outhouse is (you might need this information sooner than later).
Remember to make polite remarks on how the grass and garden looks so well groomed and how the cottage seems so inviting (even if you feel like running back into the car and heading to the nearest hotel).
Most likely next you will be asked to heat up the sauna. You must understand that sauna is a sacred place for Finns. Finns used to give birth in sauna. Sauna heals the body and the soul. DO NOT at any point, under any circumstances attempt to make fun of the sauna traditions. That will be your last joke.
To heat the sauna, you will need wood. Go and chop some up, carry it inside and place into a neat pile like this:
This would not be the best moment to be lighting a fireplace for the first time. You will need to know at least the basics on how to get the fire going without getting smoke into the sauna. There is something called a smoke sauna, but that is too hardcore for you.
After you have got the fire going in the stove (kiuas)without burning up the whole sauna, you must fetch the water. Take the buckets and fill some with rain water and others with lake/sea water. Put rain water only in the “löyly” bowl to prevent the stove stones from going bad.
Remember to keep checking the temperature of the sauna, you are aiming for 70-80C, not 100C. Heating up to 150C will NOT impress your FIL. That will burn down the sauna. You will need to add wood about every half hour.
Next you will assemble the vihta. This is a ‘whisk’ or ‘whip’ made of birch tree branches. Its used to beat yourself with while sitting in the sauna. You need to gather branches from a certain kind of birch and tie it up in a bunch. If you are lucky your FIL might assist you in this. Sometimes families have ready-made dried ones you just need to soak in water to use.
When using the vihta, start by beating your back and arms, then move to your legs. Be sure to hit yourself quite hard so that the skin becomes very red. You will be surprised how nice it feels.This means your blood is now circulating really well! Do not use the vihta like a camel whip! That will cause the leaves to fly all around the sauna.
If your FIL is impressed by your self-beating skills, he may ask you to beat his back for him. This is a great honor. Do not beat him too hard even if tempted.
You might be asked would you like a men’s sauna or a family sauna. Men’s sauna means you bathe with the men of the family, naked. Family sauna means you bathe with your wife and children, also naked. Don’t freak out about the nudity, it’s a perfectly natural thing and Finns won’t look “there”. Easiest for you would be family sauna, but if you do end up with the men, you can always use a towel to cover when you go outside for a cooling and swim.
In the sauna you will start by throwing water on the stove (kiuas). The steam this creates is called “löyly”. It is considered polite to praise the sauna and the excellence of the löyly. Try to stand the heat for at least 5 minutes then go cool off. The Finns will be throwing lots of löyly so be prepared not to chicken out too soon.
If you are next to a water source, you will need to go for a swim (even if the water is only 15c which is seen as normal). This will be seen as manly and give you high points in the eyes of your FIL (and maybe your wife). Extra points come from a spectacular jump accompanied by a magnificent roar.
If you don’t at least dip yourself in the water (not just the tip of your toes but entire body), you will fail the sauna test. Thank your lucky stars you didn’t come in the winter time when you would be required to roll around in the snow or dip into the frozen lake! The cold water stimulates the blood circulation and afterward you will feel like a hero because of the endorphines running through the body.
After the cold shock some people like to hang around outside chatting, having a drink and enjoying the scenery. Then the sauna bathing continues like this in cycles of hot and cold. Do at least three cycles to prove your stamina.
Don’t worry if everyone sits quiet as a mouse on the benches. Mostly Finns will just sit quietly without feeling awkward. Sauna is not a place for debates or lively conversation, but rather self reflecting and silence. The children in Finland are taught “In the sauna you must be as quiet as in the church”. Finns don’t know how to small talk much either.
When you’re finished wash yourself with birch tree soap. Mix hot and cold water from the large barrels in your washing basin. Rinse off with rain water.
After the sauna cool off with a cold drink in the sauna dressing/living room or outside on the deck. Try some delicious sausage (makkara) cooked on the sauna stove served with hot mustard. Remember to once more praise the löyly to your hosts!
Hopefully your FIL will approve your sauna performance and you will be accepted into the family! Good luck!
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Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010. Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 75 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia! Follow my adventures in Saudi and beyond on instagram: instagram.com/blueabaya
Very funny! Sounds like a great experience! The pic of the dog jumping into the water is nice!
Great and informative story. I think it truly reflects the meaning of “from one extreme to the other.” Loved it.
I’ve seen this ritual many times on T.V and I;ve always admired people’s bravery doing it.
honestly I’d chicken out, it’s so tough.
Ann-Thank you! My husband “survived” with flying colors. He is actually more of a loyly person than me :)
Alice-thanks! That’s our dog, he loves swimming! (and sauna)
JHENNIE-Do you mean the swimming part or the actual sauna bathing and throwing of the water part? For my husband the swimming part was the toughest!
Miolann-lol me too :) Yes all the pics are mine, they’re from our summer cottage sauna and that’s my daughter bathing in the bucket.
Almost a Muslimah-LOL too funny! Not even a 40c steam room?
I’m glad I’m not a foreign son-in-law, only a Finnish woman. I couldn’t survive the sauna experience you described :D
The last pic is so cute! Have you taken it yourself? I could have it hung on my sauna changing room wall.
oh my goodness! this post got me in stitches :D i can’t do sauna, 30sec is the maximum I lasted lol
The last picture is awesome! :)))
What a sweet, funny post! Makes me miss Suomi and our kesämökki so much. I LOVE the last pic, it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Wishing you and your family all the best for the New Year :)
I do love sauna! When I get a chance i go to use it. I like its effect so much. I became so calm, peaceful & muslces relaxed.:) But to swim in cold water after coming out uhhhh never tired… yet. :)
I love the pictures. Is it your own one? How much is the temperature in your daughter’s tub?
EVilEyeLola-thanks! I love it too she is so cute in there!
S in NYC-thank you and wish you an awesome 2012 :) I miss the summer cottage too!
Ildi-You must try the swimming, even if it seems like you are going to freeze, the feeling you get AFTER is amazing! Your body produces adrenalin and endorfins so you feel really good and refreshed :)
I spent a year of my life in love with a Finnish Girl, after reading that I don’t know if I’m glad it didn’t work out or not. Her family was in the States, but made many trips home. Nice writing. Great pictures!
Heh, I think your guide is very much applicable to other nationalities as well (e.g British son-in-laws), I wish I had given as good guidance to my husband on his first “mökki” visit! :)
Geoff-thanks! I think you can be glad :)
Satu VW-Yes you’re right! Goes for all foreign son-in-laws :) Would your husband have passed this test?
[…] Filed in: Finland | photography | Top Ten26 comments Here are 10 amazing innovations, inventions and inspirations that come from Finland, Europe’s 6th largest country with a population of just 5.4 million. 1. Sauna All Finns love sauna! We have over 2 million saunas in Finland, that’s on average one per household. Health benefits of the sauna include: lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation, cleanses skin from toxins and impurities and blemishes, aids weight loss, relaxes muscles, decreases swelling and reduces stress. Did you know that back in the day, Finnish women gave birth in the sauna! Learn more about Finnish sauna traditions here! […]
[…] 1. Sauna. What can I say? I simply cannot wait to get in a hot sauna and totally relax! Especially the one at our summer house which was built over a hundred years ago and has very traditional style with views out to the sea from the windows and the best “loyly” you will find! Afterwards eating some delicious sausages we grilled in foil on top of the sauna stove, teamed with HOT Finnish mustard and a nice cold drink..bliss..For pics from this old sauna plus how my husband came to experience it for the first time go to this post. […]
[…] Did you know that Finnish people used to give birth in saunas? The labouring women used to get relief from the heat and warmth of the sauna steam and warm water was always available there. For more Finnish sauna traditions read this post “Saudi son-in-law’s Guide to Surviving Sauna“. […]
Do you know where I can buy a sauna in Saudi and have it installed in my flat?
hi Claire, they sell them (extremely inflated prices) in Riyadh, the manufacturer is a Finnish company called Harvia :)