There was a pretty interesting report the other day on RÚV about the thing that tourists to Iceland dread the most on coming here: having to get naked in the shower before entering any of our numerous swimming pools.
Here in Iceland we are so used to showering naked among strangers at the swimming pool that we think absolutely nothing of it. We’re brought up with it, and most of us have been doing so since before we can remember. And obviously the reasoning behind it is pretty basic – we want our pools, which most of us like to visit regularly, to be clean and to stay clean.
In the report, it was noted that every single bather can potentially bring one billion [!!!] bacteria with them into a pool. Also that the bacteria gradually becomes immune to the chlorine [which note bene Icelandic pools use very little of to begin with], so the more bacteria that gets into the water, the more chlorine is needed to keep it sanitary.
So you can see that scrubbing down before getting into the pool – including your private bits – is really very essential.
But as we all know, the practice of showering naked with strangers is really daunting to some of our foreign visitors. And, presumably, so is the strict enforcement by the shower police. Because if you don’t scrub down, and the shower police don’t happen to catch you because they’re looking the other way, the Icelanders will squeal on you. Bank on it.
The terrified tourist issue aside, there were a couple of things in the report that I found really fascinating, and that I hadn’t ever really thought about. Mainly this: that there are unwritten rules among Icelanders when it comes to shower etiquette. One is that you don’t talk to strangers when you’re naked. [Not always adhered to – I can think of several instances when I’ve had conversations with strangers in the shower while we were scrubbing.] Another is that you don’t look. You just don’t look at people when they’re washing themselves. Except maybe just a passing glance out of absolute necessity, like so that you don’t bump into them and knock them over. This is something I had never really articulated to myself, but it’s completely spot-on. It’s also something we’ve learned to do automatically – and it’s one of the few physical courtesies that we Icelanders show one another.
Anyway, if you are or have been a tourist in Iceland, you may want to have a gander at the video, even if it is mostly in Icelandic – if for no other reason than to hear other tourists relate their experiences of the naked shower dilemma. And incidentally, the title on the RÚV website is pretty telling: “Had never seen her girlfriends naked” … which probably tells you everything you need to know about how alien that concept is to us Nicelanders.