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Culture shock: an Italian tries a Bavarian swimming pool

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A sauna in Erding, Bavaria. File photo: DPA
15:57 CET+01:00
Not all Europeans love to get their kit off at any given opportunity. An Italian describes her shock at using a south German bathing facility.

I love swimming and since I used to go to Italian swimming pools to relax at the end of the day, I decided to keep up this healthy habit when I moved to Munich, Germany.

This became even more important as I changed my diet from a Mediterranean, balanced one (it is true, Italians need a spaghetti dish AT LEAST once a week) to a diet based on Hamburger-Wurst-Kartoffeln (any kind of potatoes).

So what could have gone wrong after such a wise decision?

Here are five things that I learned when I went to a German swimming pool:

1. Changing Rooms

Entering a German swimming pool's changing room for the first time made me go as red as a beetroot.

Why? I was totally sure I had made a mistake. I was surrounded by half-naked men, changing their clothes freely outside of the changing stalls.

But when I turned around and went to look for the female changing area, blaming myself for this embarrassing error, I realized that the dressing rooms were for both men and women! But guess what? All the women were changing INSIDE the stalls, while the men were exhibiting their jewels to the world! 

I mustered up my courage and looked for an isolated spot, wearing my imaginary blinkers and making a mental note to remember to bring the real ones next time, in order to avoid some unpleasant sights.

2. In the Lane

The swimming pool is not the Atlantic Ocean, even if it looks like that to the eyes of Bavarian people. After being continuously passed by swimmers going at lightning speed, I started to look around to try to understand this annoying behavior where everyone is passing everybody else.

We can't decide whether dressing as a mermaid would give you a speed advantage or not. Photo: DPA

At first, I just noticed that no one was wearing a swim cap, which is against all the basic hygienic rules of Italian swimming pools. But that is another story. Eventually, after looking down, I discovered the secret!

Almost everyone was wearing flippers, which I would never have thought about, since in Italy not even the most inveterate swimmer uses them, even at the seaside!

I mean, it is unfair to be swimming with flippers!

3. Outside

A dialogue between a G(erman) and an I(talian):

G: “Let's go to an outdoor swimming pool!”

I: “Great idea! After all it is January!!! Are you crazy?”

G: “Not at all! It's the best period of the year to enjoy hot water while it's snowing all around you!”

Swimmers enjoy the outdoor thermal baths in Bad Abbach, Bavaria. Photo: DPA

Each swimming pool has an unavoidable outdoor section. German people really enjoy outdoor swimming pools in the winter. Aren't they considering that even if their bodies are immersed in hot water their heads are getting weather-beaten? Forget it! And they don't even get sick! 

On the contrary, I think this is the main reason they are so hardy and resilient and when vacationing at an Italian lake are the only ones in the water at 8 a.m.

4. Steam Bath

Germans are also big fans of steam baths. You'll find one at almost every swimming pool. As usual, these places are open to both men and women. So far so good.

Scenes in the average Bavarian sauna may not be this civilized. Photo: DPA

Story continues below…

But how would you react if, as soon as you enter, you are welcomed by a bunch of totally naked men?

Not a trace of a towel! Weird situation? By no means! It's the German way to eliminate toxins and impurities, but maybe it would be better if they did that in solitude.

5. Showers

After a swim, a steam bath, and the culture shocks they caused, an Italian woman thinks that at least she deserves a private shower. She cautiously enters the female ONLY shower zone and finally feels free to look in any direction since there are only (naked) women.

She decides that there are no dangers and takes off her swimsuit. After a proper shower she goes into the dry part of the female ONLY shower zone to put on her bathrobe, and what does she see? A MAN! Unconcernedly cleaning the female showers!

And now I ask myself: is this the country of reserved and conservative people everyone is talking about?

Maybe the swimming pools reveal something else...

Elena Cerizza is an Italian living in Munich. She originally wrote this article for InterNations, the expat social network.

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