Cultures have layers that can be peeled off like clothes.
My regular readers may remember that I’ve written several posts about my time in Switzerland. (Here’s the first, second, third, and fourth.) Today, I will strip the culture even more bare by showing the naked landscape without its coat of snow. So here’s the pic:
This photo comes to you from the resort village of Interlaken. The mountains form the culture’s outermost layer, the one that gave the world Heidi and all those sports and scenic views people flock to the country for. Then, if you look closely at the building’s perimeter, you’ll find the diving boards for a public pool as well as some tourists who the pool’s intended for. But then on the inside, behind those large windows in the center of the building, you’ll find a cultural layer where few dare to tread.
I’ll give you a hint: there’s a reason I didn’t get closer to the windows to take this photograph.
Those windows shield the “wellness” facility. It has saunas, a hot tub, a cold bucket of water (read: shower) and a torture device called a kneipp; you put your aching feet under the kneipp’s faucet and it alternates between boiling and frigid water.
You’ll be gravely disappointed if you clicked on this post hoping for adult content. Men and women use these facilities together and there’s not much clothing to be seen. You may wear a towel in the saunas (not a swimsuit) although some people lie naked on their towels. The changing area is shielded from the windows but not from everyone’s view… although there is a restroom. The facility prohibits underwear because that carries sexual connotations.
Few know about this layer of Switzerland and, among those who do, even fewer want to see it. I had been in Europe long enough to not be uncomfortable with seeing the nudity, though I wasn’t quite willing to go inside. After long and active days, I couldn’t let my squeamishness keep me from the accompanying relaxation. The Swiss are used to it and it isn’t sexual for them, so I’m presumably not going to Hell for seeing all those body parts.
And the strangest thing happens if you visit often enough. You learn to get annoyed when immature loudmouths come through or get uncomfortable with the tourist couple that cuddles suggestively in the hot tub. The nudity becomes invisible and the interruptions become notable.
I eventually left this innermost layer of Switzerland and returned to the United States. Somewhat surprisingly, I found myself having to learn how to respect my home culture’s norms. It’s the “oh, wait… I ought to be looking away” reflex that evaporated during my foreign travels. And of course, a lot of the old humor wasn’t still funny. I went shopping with an old friend and she tried to get me riled up by showing me topless photos a store was selling. I yawned and she hasn’t introduced me to any single women since then.
Life is funny sometimes.