Nudism In Europe
PERSONAL MEMOIR: WHAT THE SWISS ARE DOING WHEN
NOT CUTTING THEIR CHEESE...
When I was twelve and full of all sorts of mischief, my father decided to move our family from low-lying California to alpine Switzerland. I was a beach boy at heart. I wanted California girls and a Corvette. Or the new Mustang. To me, Switzerland was filler for the National Geographic. I couldn't have cared less about the place, and it was precisely where we were headed. Everyone was excited except me: there was no surf in Switzerland. We had several months to adjust to the idea before the movers came. Then, in the space of one day, our California life was packed into a single ocean container. We were off to the land of cuckoo-clocks and chocolate.,
After settling into our new home (Montreux, ninety kilometers from Geneva) I set out to discover what Europe was all about. I received a bus pass along with a map, and an allowance of twenty francs a week. Back then kids were free to roam, and roam I did, anywhere the buses went. Admittedly, my adventures enjoyed somewhat limited geography.
The first thing kids do in summer is go to the beach, even in Switzerland, in spite of all those Alps everywhere demanding attention. After a few weeks of staring at the Alps, you can't imagine not having them out the window. If you're from Ohio, you can't imagine going back. The Alps loom over you even from a great distance, and their shadows darken the waters of Lake Geneva, along the
shores of which sat Montreux. Facing the city from a bateaux a loue, you can see the city beaches to your left. The first thing a teenage boy from California notices when visiting a beach is teenage girls. The Swiss variety look more or less like all the rest, only they are uniformly blonde, healthy looking and resolutely polite. As for the beach along the lake shore, it didn't compare to the Atlantic Ocean. The water was frigid (fed by glaciers), which didn't bother the aggressive fairy-tale swans that menaced your toes if you left them unattended.
Whereas Americans often travel to their destinations already suited for whatever purpose the destination serves, the Swiss have a mode of dress for every activity, including bus travel, and one mode doesn't mingle with the other. Thus warned, as we took two city buses to get to our destination, we carried our suits and towels in a bag. We thought it was silly. When you go to the beach in California, you wear your suit all the way there and back, even through non-beach areas of town. We thought the Swiss were perhaps a bit stodgy, but went along with it. Upon arrival at the beach, we headed for the changing area. Now, here in the seventh paragraph, you're beginning to wonder what this article has to do with family nudism. We're getting there, but this set-up is important.
Once we arrived at the changing area (I was with my brother at the time) we noticed 1) the Swiss made no distinction between genders when it came to changing areas and 2) there were no doors.
What the hell? Upon entering a large facility lined wall-to-wall with lockers we immediately noticed fifty or so cheese-loving Swiss citizens in varying stages of undress, exchanging their bus-riding clothes for the beach-going variety. Mothers and sons, daughters and fathers, brothers
and sisters, and small groups of both sexes were involved in an act of mass nudity. In their quiet midst were two stunned and disbelieving American teenage males. Life couldn't have been better, and we suddenly loved Switzerland.
This was the first time I had seen bras and panties properly animated (not simply sitting lonesome in a drawer, or in the J.C. Penny catalogue). Imagine the shock of seeing them in the act of being applied or removed. Imagine the wonder at what their absences revealed.
When one is young and male, one prays for a certain flaccidity in these situations. Unfortunately, no miracle arrived to undo natural hormonal tendencies. We were forced to retreat to a cafe sitting atop the changing area. Brothers have non-verbal strategies in situations involving anything to do within their shorts, and this was one of them.
At home no one acknowledged having genitals, and we'd just left a room full of them. This new strategy would take some adjustment. The act of completely stripping and dressing in a coed locker room is a wonderfully titillating dilemma (more in the mind than elsewhere), the sort of problem one wishes would come along with greater frequency.
For one, it's hard to pay attention to what you're doing while giving your full attention to what others are doing. The fact that these rosy-cheeked teenage wonders lollygagged in their underpants and brassieres while neatly folding each garment as it came off forced upon us a new appreciation for tidiness. The best thing is, though you get used to it, you never lose your fascination. And you're are not invading anyone's privacy because there is none available. You don't stare, but you do notice, and there is no harm in being observant. We made frequent visits to the changing area (it was easy to look purposeful, it was the only way to get to the toilets). We drank Cokes in prodigious volume to support this habit.
Now, this little example of immodesty has nothing to do with nudism per se. The gentle Swiss used in this example had nothing on their minds other than changing their clothes. As with everything else, they were efficient and, as all Swiss tend to be, private and modest in their own way. No one lingered over the task, or found reason to be there unless they were in fact changing or visiting the other facilities (which did have doors and were segregated). Their communal nudity was merely functional, simply a state we all endure when changing our clothes. No big deal (once you become accustomed). I quickly acclimated.
That winter I was sent off to ski school in Zermatt and a second awakening. Common to most of the ski area hotels and even the larger pensions are bath houses and saunas, which are non-segregated and avidly enjoyed. What could be better after a long day of skiing in the Swiss Alps?
Of course, no one in his or preferably, her right mind wears clothing into a sauna, plunge pool or steam room. One would be mad to do so (still, the Swiss would not comment). And why build two facilities when one will do? Certainly there is no shame to enjoying the revitalizing habit of a sauna and steam bath in the nude, even in mixed company, even in the presence of your children.
I don't think the Swiss give it a second thought. Communal nude bathing (the horror!) is as natural to them as having a slice of viande seche. Of course, for certain activities you must be naked, no matter what your shape or size. Imagine.
Imagine indeed. A family enjoying a sauna and frigid plunge pool or romp in the snow is hardly a perversion, though there are some who find the idea immensely repugnant. The truth is, Europeans have had centuries to become immensely sensible about their bodies. They don't mind having them.
In the mid-1960s a starlet posed topless in St. Tropez. It made a few headlines in the European tabloids, but more was made of it in the States. By the late 1960s, topless beaches took hold all over Europe, and no one seemed to mind. As the years passed, bottoms disappeared too. Now, nearly every beach in Europe has at least a portion laid aside for people who prefer to sun and swim in the all-together. The families that enjoy them look just like the families here except they're naked, with breasts and bottoms fully blessed by the sun.
In the U.S. we seem to prefer pale bosoms and behinds (recall that precious Coppertone ad and Playboy circa 1965, before the horrifying advent of pubic hair).
So the Europeans are not as most of us already know picky about who views their particulars, whether within families or among strangers. A body is a body and whether it's beautiful or a temple of unimaginable proportion, it is what it is. Spending an hour in a room full of naked people is not sexually arousing. Actually, you sometimes begin to imagine everyone with their clothes on, if you're looking at all. Interestingly, clothing suddenly seems sexy. In the flesh we have no secrets.
Family nudism in Europe is really a misnomer. Simply put, there are activities better done in the buff, whether alone or in groups, among family, friends or foreigners. Yes, there are purist nudist resorts in Europe (particularly Eastern Europe), though not in the number you may have been led to believe. But their activities seem wholesome (compared to Hedonism II, for example) and harmless.
Sex is an intimate and private enjoyment, and our bodies know nothing of it unless we engage our imaginations. Yes, the sight of a beautiful naked woman (or man, depending on your preference) may produce degrees of desire, perhaps even an embarrassing quiver. Why not? It happens among clothed people all the time. No harm is done unless you display an amazing lack of courtesy. Even European teenage boys know when to divert their attention, or remove themselves if incapable of controlling their avid hormones. In truth, they seem invariably nonchalant about the whole thing.
In short, labeling a casual attitude toward nudity as anything but that serves no useful purpose. We are all nudists before we get our clothes on. Some of us aren't in a rush.
If a family has no hang-ups being in the buff in a communal atmosphere, they're not nudists, particularly in the American sense of the word. Nor are they perverts.
They're simply naked. European Nudism: Switzerland