Getting Americans To Understand Sauna Culture

photo of a saunaOne of the more universal frustrations experienced by U.S.-based sauna dealers, distributors, and manufacturers is the lack of knowledge about saunas and a dearth of experience about the sauna lifestyle.

Unlike the Finnish culture, which embraces saunas as a communal experience and for thousands of years helped Finns wile away the cold winter months, sauna use in America is not part of our cultural heritage.

However, Americans may soon get an education in saunas by watching "Steam of Life," a documentary exploring the sauna's place in Finland's culture. The film had a limited release in the U.S., and was Finland's official entry into the Academy Awards' foreign language competition. The U.S. television rights have been picked up by PBS, and will run nationally on the network's POV (point of view) series.

In the documentary, Finnish men commune with each other, telling life stories. Some comic, some sad, these conversations range from the death of a child to the adoption of an orphan, which we later learn is a brown bear. Saunas from across Finland are featured, including several built in unusual places including a trailer, a mine and a phone booth.

While it is unlikely that the airing of this subtitled documentary will change this country's cultural norms, an immersion into the sauna lifestyle may give some consumers something to think about when considering their next leisure product. —L.A.

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