Anyone for a shower? Sizzling Stockholm single girl Claire Duffy ponders the Swedes’ predilection for suddenly whipping their clothes off and why anyone would want to engage in a social situation wearing nothing but one’s birthday suit.
They had just pulled onto the narrow, winding little lane that leads to his family’s sommarstuga, when, months into her new life as a Swedish sambo, something snapped in my friend. As her boyfriend took on the look of a deer in headlights, months of pent up horror poured out and she announced, on absolutely no uncertain terms, that she couldn’t – wouldn’t – have lunch with his parents ever again.
Unless his Dad put some trousers on.
My friend’s future father-in-law, you see, was a particular sort of Swede who is firmly of the opinion that clothes belong in the city. Summers on the archipelago are strictly for wearing one’s birthday suit, and my friend had suffered silently through many an otherwise pleasant visit in full and frank view of her father-in-law’s bits and pieces. To paraphrase, she was British as hell and she just couldn’t take it any more.
No doubt all expats have a story about a time when they encountered Swedes letting it all hang out in unexpected circumstances. Another friend went swimming with her Swedish sister-in-law, and was deeply perturbed to discover that the showers, unlike in Canada, were very much communal. Her sister-in-law cheerfully whipped off her bathing suit and started to shower, while my Canadian friend stared at the ceiling, counted to 10, and tried not to cry. Suddenly she spied – eureka! – one single shower stall hiding bashfully in the corner of the room. She dived over, pulled the curtain across, and – relief – peeled off her bathing suit.
“There you are!” the sister-in-law shouted, as though this was some sort of unspoken, naked game of hide and seek.
Swedish sis stepped into the stall with her and continued to chat away, while my Canadian friend stared at the ceiling, counted to 100 and tried not to hyperventilate.
However, despite the terror and flustered no-idea-where-to-look panic its wont to generate, there is an important upside to the Swedish fondness for whipping their clothes off at the drop of a hat.
One can’t help but notice how normal we all are. How few of us – ‘we’ and ‘us’ being the human race – live up to the airbrushed fantasies peddled by much of the media. I generally try to operate on the notion that if a dude sees me with my clothes on and still expects Elle MacPherson to be lurking beneath, then he’s a bit of a moron and I don’t put much truck by the opinion of a moron.
Further, as a feminist I am determined to recognize and dismiss negative body image as the patriarchal nonsense that it is, but, when the only naked (or close to) women I have for reference are to be found in lingerie catalogues or on HBO, it can be an uphill battle.
In Sweden, you just have to look around a gym changing room, or a beach, or, it seems, your in-laws country house, to know that the vast majority of us who don’t live on the pages of magazines or in Bon Temps, have lumps and bumps and wobbly bits and manage just fine.
I got to thinking about this when a recent date suggested that we meet to kayak. I spend so much time kayaking in the summer I sometimes worry I’ll grow a rudder, but I found myself demurring. Here’s the thing: I kayak in a bikini. It’s handy for keeping cool and not worrying about getting clothing wet, and way more importantly, I am well on my way to the first tummy tan of my 30s. But a first date in a bikini? Even the staunchest, take-me-as-I-am-or-get-lost feminist would hesitate at that, surely. So I hesitated.
Then I remembered I’m a kick-ass Swedish woman in training and arranged to meet him by the water.