25: When in Rome

25: When in Rome

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

When in Rome

Being naked approaches being revolutionary; going barefoot is mere populism.

~John Updike

“When in Rome…” I thought as I flattened my back against the rough cedar siding of the sauna. The glance in the window had revealed more than I had wanted. My month in Sweden had been a great adventure, faced head on, but this seemed more daunting, intimidating. I slowly shook my head, scolding myself. “You can take trains across Scandinavia, ride the buses of Stockholm alone, yet you can’t take your bathing suit off with your family?” I stole another peek in the window. There they were, perched on benches, all of their blond loveliness, stark naked. I felt like an uptight, stupid American.

As I stood there, I realized that I would be more obvious in my bathing suit than nude. Could you truly be less conspicuous naked? I slowly peeled down the black straps over my frigid shoulders, giving a shudder in the cool air. I finished the job with a determined yank, steeling myself for the next step.

The handle of the cedar door was smooth as I grasped it in my moist palm. I inhaled sharply and straightened my spine. I sucked in my stomach. I tried to walk nonchalantly into the sauna. No one had done more than glance my way and the conversations continued, enveloping me in the rhythm of the Swedish language. I suddenly felt very silly.

Fifteen minutes, maybe twenty passed as the easy conversation continued. I listened to the talking, joined in for a few words and tried to become immersed in the moment. The rhythm of the language started to lull me into a more relaxed place. I wanted to be adult enough, sophisticated enough, to think that public nudity, well at least among distant family members, really wasn’t a big deal. I wanted to act like I was every bit a casual European, comfortable in her own skin. I had done this thing and now should relax in the moment.

My cousin Kia’s voice startled me back into the sauna. “Are you ready?” she questioned. My mind flew back into high gear. “Ready for what?” What else could there be?

“A sauna isn’t complete without the cool down. Now is the time we end the sauna.”

My heart started to thump. How could we cool down? There wasn’t any snow outside in July. Was there a shower? I knew in my heart it wasn’t going to be a shower.

Kia looked amused. Her blue eyes twinkled.

I didn’t want to ask the question because then I would have to choose my next step. It’s funny how sitting naked on a hard wooden bench in a roomful of relative strangers had now become the comfortable choice. I did have to laugh at the absurdity.

It was as if Kia was reading my mind. She didn’t wait for the question but answered it as if it had been spoken. “We run into the Baltic.”

“What?” I had heard the words and it wasn’t that I didn’t understand them, but my brain refused to comprehend how they could have anything to do with me. The loop replayed over and over; “we run into the Baltic, we run into the Baltic.” The sauna stood at least 100 yards from the shore. Across the yard, in view of all of the other summer homes, the other vacation residents, the entire population of Sweden, and all the satellites hovering overhead.

My throat went dry. There would be bouncing and jiggling in places that had never shook in Sweden before.

I stood, my knees feeling a little weak as Kia firmly clasped hands with mine, fingers locked together. “Vi ska ga nu!” she crowed and we were off.

~Karen Coffee Nicholson

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners