Sauna tips

  • It is forbidden to bring a clock to sauna. If you have a mobile phone, turn it off before going to the undressing room.
  • In sauna, the water-throwing (löyly) is always done by the oldest Finn present. If you are asked, decline politely a few time to be sure they really mean it.
  • It is not polite to protest if someone is staring at your privates. This is merely a show of respect; one should be worried if no-one is staring. In this case a little strutting and leg-spreading is not too rude; doing the helicopter would be. Note this applies to women, too: but only to the genital area of the groin. Staring at someone's chest is obvious asking for trouble.
  • Do not spit, piss or pour beer on the stove. For this you may be pummeled or roasted. Neither of these is a literal, lethal practice; but one should not push things. (Pummeling is the English cognate of "pummeli", a fingertip-sized stone flicked at someone in imitation of a true medieval stoning, outlawed since 1917. Roasting is the "intuitive" English term for "kummeli", where pre-heated pebbles and small slings are used. Both are common hazing hijinks, and are not exactly illegal.)
  • If the heat is particularly intense, grunting and moaning are acceptable. One should avoid screaming. (Also, jumping up will not help.)
  • If a stove-stone cracks, it is customary to congratulate the löyly-thrower for "getting one more of 'em little bastards", meaning the sauna gnomes (saunatonttu). These are small, pale, black-clad creatures of folklore that make their living stealing stove stones.
  • If you are offered a bunch of birch twigs (a vasta or a vihta), don't fall for the ancient prank: supposedly you're to whack your back with it. This is silly, and hurts like hell because of the temperature, but foreigners sometimes fall for it. In reality, you're supposed to sit on the twigs; the airy insulation they provide makes the bathing experience much more pleasant.
  • The polite way to attract the attention of the person next to you --- remember that in a sauna you both are most likely doubled over, eyes possibly closed --- is to gently blow on their cheek or shoulder.
  • While most people don't believe the old sauna superstitions, it still is polite to observe them: to knock the bench (laude) before you sit down or stand up; to say thank-you ("Kiitos.") to the stove as you leave; to never raise your voice, mention the time, or invoke any gods or even prominent politicians; and to butt your behind two times against the door of the sauna room before going in.
last updated: (Jul 01 2011)