Recently on a skiing trip in Austria, I was relaxing in the hotel spa cozily wrapped in a bathrobe with book in hand, when a man walked in, disrobed completely, and treaded through the icy cold wading pond. Then, in his full nakedness, he made his way to the cold pool to take a dip.
Next, a middle-aged couple came in and did the same thing. I pretended not to notice them from behind my book, but I was curious about their confidence to fully strip in front of strangers.
Back in the USA people do not bathe naked together publicly. There are separate changing areas and bathrooms for both genders. Most spas require a bathing suit for sanitary reasons. This seems to be the standard attitude towards nudity in the US.
Why are Europeans more relaxed about nudity?
Europeans are far more open and relaxed about nudity and sexuality in general compared to Americans. It is normal to have mixed gender-changing areas in public pools and nude beaches are commonplace around Europe. I think the main problem is that Americans associate nudity with sex, whereas Europeans don’t.
The acceptance of nudity depends on the norms of each society and family. I think it is a common mistake to equate nudism with sex.
What if I am embarrassed?
But what do I do if I’m not 100% comfortable hanging out in the buff with strangers let alone friends and colleagues in the hotel sauna? Do I turn back and check in at the local Holiday Inn? Or do I close my eyes and pretend not to see anyone?
It’s an awkward feeling to be sure. I consider myself open-minded to many lifestyles, yet I don’t fully embrace letting myself all hang out with strangers in a spa. But I am getting used to it.
How would I handle the indiscretion?
For Christmas, I treated my husband to a couple’s aromatherapy bath and massage at a public pool. There is a wonderful array of Jacuzzis and hot and wet saunas where swimsuits are not allowed. We donned bathrobes to cover up and keep warm. Many people were comfortable walking around in the buff. My husband, without abashment, striped off his robe and stepped into the whirlpool.
He said that sometimes he runs into acquaintances and co-workers there. I was not too thrilled to run into anyone I know sporting nothing but my birthday suit. The thought made me blush. I decided to go with the flow and open myself up to the experience. I felt safe being with my husband in any case.
What is holding me back?
Am I too modest? Do I fear that people will notice that I am still struggling to lose the extra weight I gained last year? Or that they will see that the cellulite removal cream I’ve been using for years doesn’t work? Can it be an inhibition from my upbringing which mixed cultural with religious principles? I suspect it is all of the above.
Does anyone really care if I am nude?
No. What I’ve realized is that most people are more concerned with their own relaxation to even bother looking at me.
Why do customs differ regarding nudity?
I don’t come from a culture where it is shameful or forbidden for a woman to wear a bikini in public. Nor would I lose my honor by going bare into the hot tub. The acceptance of public nudity depends on the morals and principles of each society.
Attitudes could even differ from geographical locations within a culture. In East Germany, for example, there are historically plenty of designated nude family camping areas that are freely accepted while predominately Catholic Bavaria is more conservative in nature.
Our norms and mores are taught to us, so if you grew up without a stigma around nudity, then nudity is the norm. It is no different than how a more modest culture, the Middle East for example, might perceive Americans at the beach. They would doubtless question why would we westerners expose so much skin.
What do I want for my children?
Being raised in Europe, my kids are getting a lesson that our bodies are not to be hidden or viewed as sex objects. It is an attitude that I want them to embrace and carry over to the next generation.
Over to you. What is your opinion on this topic? Please leave a comment below. I’d like to hear your thoughts.
Teenage drinking is often a real concern for parents. Living in a foreign country with relaxed drinking age limits, you have to confront the reality that your teenager might be consuming alcohol at a much younger age than in your home country.
A number of factors may underlie a country’s rules on teenager drinking: social acceptance, cultural mores, and the role of public transportation, to name a few. You have to examine your own cultural and moral attitudes on how to deal with this potential conflict.
Answering Your Child’s Call for Help
A few months ago, my daughter, Jessica, and her boyfriend, Tobi, called me in the middle of the night to help a drunk and disgraced Sarah (not her real name) get home safely. They didn’t want to take the bus for fear that Sarah would get sick and have them thrown off and onto the street.
On my drive across town, I pondered how I would handle the problem if I were a teenager again. Back in my day, I would not have called my parents for sure. In America where the drinking age is 21, my parents would have blamed the dumb teenagers for their foolishness and let them suffer the consequences.
Germans parents are far more lenient. In Germany, where I live, the drinking age is 16. Teenage drinking is prevalent. Some parents see this as perfectly normal, a right of passage so to speak.
Acknowledging Your Child’s Maturity
Pride and relief washed over me when I realized that Jessica took responsibility to call an adult in a situation that she felt was getting out of control. She overcame shame, exhibiting true maturity.
What really impressed me was the concern that Jessica and Tobi showed Sarah as they carefully guided her into the back seat of my car all the while caressing her back, assuring her that she’ll arrive home safely. Jessica put Sarah’s hair in a ponytail in case she got sick.
Witnessing Your Child’s Strengths and Skills
As if on queue, she did. Tobi and Jessica jumped into action like two well-trained first-aid workers.
Astutely, Jessica procured Sarah’s house keys. Quick thinking, she strategically arranged to have a girlfriend to meet us at Sarah’s house. They made a tactical plan to slip Sarah inside without disturbing her parents.
I pulled up to Sarah’s house at the same time her parents arrived on the scene. Learning that his daughter was intoxicated, Sarah's father affectionately put his arms around her demonstrating such compassion, love and understanding. Her mother thanked me kindly for delivering her daughter home safely.
Questioning Your Cultural Norms
I had to ask myself what I would have done in that situation? Would I have been so loving and understanding? Thinking of my own cultural perspective on teenage drunkenness, I might have been more stern, annoyed and disappointed in my child’s inebriation.
Opening Up to the Learning
The lesson I learned from Sarah’s parents was about loving your child under all circumstances. They know she is a good, loving daughter and normally a responsible young adult. She tried alcohol but her lightweight body couldn’t cope. In her parents eyes she did no wrong and ventured into the realm of teenager partying and experimenting.
Letting Go and Trusting
More importantly, I leaned to trust my daughter. She is intelligent, well organized and intuitive as she wades through life. I think that all the international moves and travelling have taught her to be flexible and take control of her circumstances.
Like many foreign parents living here, I have to adjust my cultural point of view on many issues. I have to surrender and accept situations that I cannot change. I have to let go and trust.
Understanding the Differences
This is not an easy concept for some foreigners abroad. For some nationalities and cultures, drinking is forbidden. Some countries consider wine an epicurean delight while others ban it altogether
I am not a fan of teenage drinking. I dread the thought of having to deal with my own kids coming home intoxicated. I can only hope that I’d act calmly and not be so harsh as my parents would’ve been.
Taking Sage Advice
When it comes to untying the apron strings of my own cultural confines, I am taking the sage advice from my Canadian friend and expat Shelley Wilson:
“It's scary, but you just got to trust her and all that you have ingrained in her over the years that she will make wise decisions for herself.”
Over To You
What is your experience or opinion on this topic? Please drop me a line in the comment box below. I’d love to hear from you.
It is 3 a.m. and I am at the Hannover, Germany airport. I am waiting in line to check in for our family holiday to Greece. Then suddenly I hear my cell phone ring. Who could be calling me at this ungodly hour? My gut instinct told me this was not good. The caller would deliver bad news. I know from past experiences that when the phone rings in the wee hours it is not for a random chitchat.
The Dreaded Phone Call
I was right: It was my sister-in-law calling from California telling me that my mother is dying and pleading with me to say good-bye to mom right then before it is too late. Having one hand with the phone to my ear, I fumbled the passports over to the airline representative. To be honest, I didn’t know how to handle this situation. Should I hang up and call back? It was an awkward moment.
I was trying to be polite answering the airline representative’s questions while at the same time stuttering on the phone to inquire about this sudden emergency. I was in shock. I tried hard to be stoic in front of the other passengers who were hoping I’d hang up and move on. Fortunately, my husband took over so I could make some sense of this all.
Expect the Unexpected
Earlier in the day my 91-year-old mother got a lung infection that spiraled into pneumonia. She was not reacting to the antibiotics and her health was deteriorating fast. The doctors feared the worst and all the relatives were called in to be at her bedside.
As soon as I passed through passport control and got to the gate, I phoned my mother. With tears rolling down my face, I yelled loudly in to the phone “I love you, mom,” speaking what I thought to be my final words to her. My husband, kids, and all the other passengers at the gate were listening intently with curiosity and concern. It was definitely an odd, inopportune moment. Five minutes later I was on the flight headed to Crete bewildered and confused.
Comforting Your Child's Fears
Recently my 10 year-old son, Sean, had expressed fears about flying. Being raised as an expat child, Sean has had much exposure to airports and global traveling; they were part and parcel of his childhood. He is, however, at the age where children are often aware of death from various accidents. Recently, a few high profile airplane crashes tweaked his anxiety. Timing couldn’t be worse. As we walked down the gangway of the plane, he sobbed as if he were headed for doom.
I prayed with him, held his hand, and told him all will be right. I promised him we wouldn’t go belly up in a ball of fire. God would protect us. He sat in the window seat with his head turned away from me so I couldn’t see him weeping. I assured him he is a good, brave boy. I felt oddly serene that our fate was secure. I hope I passed that confidence on to him.
Trust Your Intuition
When the plane leveled out, Sean swallowed a breath of relief. He had curious, unanswerable questions about his beloved Bonbon, a term of endearment for his grandmother. I felt numb yet I knew deep in my soul that no matter what my mother’s fate would be, we would continue our holiday with a sense of peace. It was like a cosmic blanket of knowledge that wrapped around my soul.
The legacy I inherited from my parents was the love of travel. They encouraged us to expand our horizons and to be open to new cultures savoring the adventure. I didn’t hesitate to get on the plane. I knew it would be what my mother wanted.
Making The Hard Decision
During our vacation, I agonized about what to do next. Should I immediately fly to California when I get home or wait until funeral arrangements are made? Booking a last minute flight across the world in the height of summer costs in a minor fortune, not including car rental and other expenses. Since we couldn’t afford for the whole family to fly, which child should I take with me? How do I tell one child that she/he couldn’t go see Bonbon for the last time? I prayed and asked God for guidance.
When Wisdom Speaks, You Listen
The wisdom that came to my heart told me it is better to see her alive than dead. I needed to say, “I love you and all is well” in person, assuring her that it was okay to let go and move on to another sphere.
Money comes and goes. Once the money is spent I would no longer think about it. In my heart I knew that if I did not see mom one last time, the regret would haunt me like the ghost of Christmas past. My daughter graciously volunteered not to come, sensing that her brother needed some special bonding time with me and my family to ease his angst.
Do What Is Necessary
We flew to California two days after we returned to Germany. My mother is an amazing, strong woman with a beautiful spirit. She survived the hospital stay and went back home to live out the rest of her days. She looked so well that it was hard to believe that a few weeks ago she was dying. But my mother is a good actress. She put on her happy face and acted like all was well. As soon as we left, her health went into decline.
Making Peace with the Unknown
At this point she is still with us, but barely. The moral of this story is to take the opportunity to see your loved ones no matter how far away they are or how much it costs. I will always remember how my mother’s eyes lit up and how she smiled so brightly when I walked into the room. It is the last living memory of her that I will take with me. I have no regrets because I don’t know what tomorrow brings.
Have You Ever Had This Experience?
Have your ever had this type of experience? Please drop me a line in the comment box and share your experience. I’d love to hear from you.
As a life long expat and professional life coach, my goal is to help people overcome obstacles when they move overseas. Moving can be traumatic for some people whether they move 100 miles away from home or 10,000. Obviously moving to a foreign country has far more effects on a family or person than just moving to a new neighborhood or a new city in the same country.
I want to give you some tips about how to think and ponder about yourself since you’ve moved.
The best book I know about overseas living and expat life is by Debra R. Bryson and Charise M. Hoge: A Portable Identity: A Woman’s Guide to Maintaining a Sense of Self While Moving Overseas. .
Let’s start with the definition of identity. The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes it as “the qualities, beliefs, etc. that make a particular person or group different from others”. Bryson and Hoge ask four questions that help you identity your own personal self-image what they call the “internal view of self”.
For example they ask: “How do you view yourself?” Here you would even include how others would describe you. Are you nice, likeable, tall, short, easygoing, shy tenacious? Try listing as many as fifty words to describe yourself. Be honest.
“What are your beliefs?” is the second question.. This includes religious, political, national, personal. For example are you a god-fearing Protestant who believes in the right to personal freedom and expression, supports your country’s constitution, and wants equality for all.
“What are your values” is the third question. As a life coach, I love this question. It is what I really try to get my clients to find in themselves. Examples are values such as family, honesty, freedom and humor. Try to write a list of 20. If you have a hard time thinking of them, ask yourself what do I admire in other people? You often mirror in yourself what you admire in others. What qualities don’t you like in other people? Arrogance, self-centeredness, laziness? Then ask yourself what is the opposite of those qualities? Kindness, generosity, hard work? You can find the values you honor by acknowledging what you don’t like.
The last two questions are “What are your attitudes and your likes and dislikes towards life?” Are you open, not open, positive or negative? What is your attitude towards other cultures, people, education? What do you like to do? Are you a city person or country gal? Do you have a routine? Are you sporty? How do you spend your vacations? What is your culture’s view of gender? Do you believe in women’s rights? How do you view your body image?
Ask yourself these questions and be honest with yourself. I am interested in your feedback. Please send me an email with your comments.