Normally, I’m not one to shy away from an opportunity to remove my clothes, especially when it involves certain activities…like swimming in warm, wonderful water. I’m a water baby, I love the womblike existence of water.
So when we trudged out in the snow last Sunday afternoon to the Vienesse bathouse, we donned our swimwear in the partitioned changing area, because we didn’t know better.
Better to be safe than sorry, right? Entering the common area, we were greeted by naked bodies of all shape and size, and a smiling English speaking gentleman who kindly oriented us to each area of the facility. And who made no mention of our clothes, which no one within eyesight were wearing.
“I guess it’s a clothing-is-not-optional bath house,” whispered my husband.
We continued on, nothing bothering. I noticed there were like 1 woman to every 30 men. Maybe that’s why they were staring at me.
It was the naked dream, reversed. We were the only ones wearing clothes.
Then we went into the dry sauna. And the staring really began. One persistently stared me down, then began speaking in German, gesticulating that I should remove my top. His man friend sat there next to him nodding, chatting to each other about my apparently bothersome bikini clad condition. I smiled and nodded politely. They didn’t stop. They were quite insistent I take off my top right there. Okay, nod politely, smile. Point taken, ya know? Did I mention they were naked, old men?
Another sauna-goer, English-speaking, said:
“the same thing happened to me in Miami. I walk into a spa in Miami without clothes, and they kick me out. I didn’t know I was supposed to wear bathing clothes. They kick me out. It’s the same here.”
And he gets up and leaves.
Now, no one was kicking me out. I mean, he didn’t have the authority to kick me out – did he?
I turn to my husband who says, “Maybe we should just leave?”
I say, “Why should I? Is my bikini really offending them?”
“It’s their custom and we’re in their country. Everyone here is nude.”
Now I’d normally take all that into account, had I known, I would’ve dropped my skivvies beforehand. Yet on a previous trip to a bath house in Hungary, just next door, it was not clothing optional – everyone was in swimsuits.
So why didn’t I drop ’em?
There’s something about being surrounded by very authoritative sounding German speaking naked men, being told to take my clothes off that really gets to a girl…
Maybe it’s the American in me. It’s my right to choose. To be an individual. To protect my person and property…which I suddenly felt very protective of. Maybe it’s Uranus on my ascendant. I dislike being told what to do.
We leave the sauna and go for a swim in the whirlpool. A different older man disapprovingly eyes me as he steps in. He wades over to our corner, pointing to my bikini, again indicating I should take it all off.
Okay, now I’m really uncomfortable. Message fully recieved.
Just 15 minutes and 20 Euros after entering the bath house, we decide to leave. I walk away, tail, err, suit between legs.
I’ve never been so shamed for wearing my clothes.
At first, my husband pointed out as we walked to the tube, all that staring could’ve been the hot-chick syndrome thing (so sweet he thinks of me as a hot chick). After all, I was only woman in the joint below 40. But I was clearly offending a tradition, and as a visiting guest, I shan’t flagrantly offend.
When he told an Austrian friend back home about our adventure, his Austrian replied:
“Ah, you should have just told ’em to **ss off. I would’ve.”
I may be courageous but I’m a foreigner. It wasn’t my desire to knock up against the old guard of tradition and give it the finger. I’ll leave that to the restless natives.