Have you noticed Europeans love to get naked? It's a sweeping generalisation, I know, but though their cultures and languages differ, the one thing the peoples of Europe have in common is a comfort with platonic nudity that we cannot identify with.
It's not that everyone wanders around starkers in the street, but in the right situation nudity is much more acceptable than it would be at home. At the beach, for instance. I felt like a Victorian who'd time-travelled into the 21st century at the Spanish seaside last week. My bikini was embarrassingly chaste next to the standard level of dress, which was not much at all.
My friends and I still had a good laugh with each other about all the breasts and genitals on display - we're just not used to it! There's usually one brave woman who puts up with a million stares by going topless at your local New Zealand beach, right? But in Europe not only is it the norm to bare all on the sand, but girls hold conversations with each other while doing it (where are you meant to look?!).
And the farther east you go, the more the locals cover up on the street and strip off near the water. I noticed it most in Turkey, where women who conceal their heads and ankles when they go out, happily wear nothing together at the bathhouse. They must think we're mad the way we wear comparatively little in public, but are beyond modest around our friends privately.
If you've braved a Turkish spa experience you'll know what I'm talking about. A friend and I had one in Istanbul last year - never again! We prayed we'd at least be able to keep our underwear on, but no. The two women attendants wrestled our gowns off us as we giggled like ten-year-olds and looked anywhere but at each other.
"Don't look," shouted Janella, "this must never be spoken of." We spent the rest of the time lying on a marble slab, eyes to the ceiling, being alternately scrubbed and soaped in places soap should never go. The slippery foam would've played havoc with the marble if the attendants hadn't had full grasp of us straight between the legs. They shunted us around at their leisure as they heaved bucket loads of scalding water over our bodies. I couldn't decide whether I was going to faint or vomit. The two women who bathed us thought our loss of dignity was hilarious.
The nudity continued at another bathhouse in Budapest (why do I keep frequenting them?). Unusually, everyone was in togs this time except for one voluptuous woman who marched naked into the pool, swam to the edge, and hoisted herself on to the far side. She then spreadeagled herself beneath a fountain that poured water on her like some sort of fetish porn. No one batted an eyelid, except Kate and me, who lost it so much we had to get out of the pool.
Do we all need to lighten up and get naked together? Or do the Europeans take things too far? And what are your naked travel experiences (never thought I'd be asking that question)?
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