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… are friendlier than their American counter-parts.

Get your mind out of the gutter!

There are lots of cultural differences that I encounter as I split my time and energy between San Diego and Amsterdam. Sometimes it’s obvious – Black Pete’s at Sinterklaas, Red Light District, Smoking in restaurants even if it’s technically illegal, Haggling at the farmer’s market, Language.

Sometimes it’s things that are a simple word twist: Like… the words used to say “I love you” in Dutch translates into English as “I like you.” (Can you imagine the panic of most American men! “I like you” is suddenly LOADED!)

Sometimes they are big thinking adjustments… being willing to work really hard for 35 hours and then SToPPING… to have time to LIVE. So what if you can’t afford a bigger apartment? You have time to hang with your husband, don’t you? Time to travel?

But nowhere is cultural difference more profoundly felt – for me at least – than at the gym.

At first, the struggle was finding a gym where co-ed Saunas was NOT allowed… By the way – all saunas here have full nude option. And it’s not that I am a prude – hell, I’ve lived most of my life in Southern California! I’ve had my nude moments in a jacuzzi or on a massage table…

But the energy is different.

Here, it’s not only the co-ed vs. all same-sex that is a tangible issue… it’s the attitude!

In my nude SoCal moments it was about stripping as quickly as possible, wrapping a towel around your body that you want to hide since it can’t compete with Name-Some-Top-Model, averting your eyes, dashing from the locker room to the sauna or jacuzzi and swallowing hard when you DO have to talk to someone or make eye contact.

You felt on display. You felt measured. You felt like you could not compete with the bevy of beauties. So what if their boobs were silicone and they all had had liposuction and laser hair removal and fake tans and butt implants and… and… and….

The Puritan inside the American heart emerged….

But then you walk into a Dutch gym locker room… Women calmly undressing… women calmly walking around without anything more than flip-flops on… women walking into saunas without even a hair tie… and guys sitting there as nude as can be too.

Granted… that was too much for me and I yanked the tail between my legs (or the towel in this case) and ran.

But I did finally find a same-sex locker room-sauna combo… and after a year… I barely notice it. I no longer battle to not gape at the women who strut their stuff… who walk into the sauna and move in all sorts of obscene-esque ways to find a comfy spot… who grin at you and say “How are you doing?” while you are without a stitch of clothing to hide your vulnerable self.

I had not realized how much I had become comfortable with this culture…(or maybe how much I had blossomed… until yesterday.. when I walk into the sauna to find two women. And unlike the other women I’ve encountered, they don’t say “Good Day.” They don’t casually glance up.

Okay… whatever… It’s post New Year’s and there’s an influx of newbies trying to live up to their New Year’s resolutions… so maybe they are new….

I sit.

They start chatting. In English! At first I didn’t even hear it…trying to focus on not choking on the eucalyptic moist hot air and get my breathing regularized…  Then it gelled. Americans! Cool! Maybe some new friends! So I make ‘contact. Gasp!

I say ‘Hello… Americans I take it?”

Silence. You could hear the words drop through the steam and go ‘splat!’

Did they not hear my American accent????

Then I realized… I made them uncomfortable. Here I was… tall… blond… and looking Dutch… comfortable-ish in my skin (thanks to lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of miles on the treadmill)…and not that I am anywhere near to receiving a Body-of-the-Week award… but I wasn’t phased by the situation. BUT THEY WERE.

Now sometimes people in Amsterdam take the idea of ‘acceptance’ to an excruciating level. But there is something that I really like about the Dutch acceptance of being… of the physical… of being human. In America we are constantly wanting to change our physical presences… we are always trying to morph into something else… But here… it’s okay not to wear makeup… it’s okay to have your hair naturally become all kinds of cool grey-ish shades… it’s not embarrasing to hear someone go to the bathroom (besides, the places are so small you can’t avoid it!)… it’s okay to say “I want to go home and make love to my significant other” to friends at a party…it’s okay to be comfortable in your body and walk around naked….

There’s a freedom there…. There’s a freedom HERE.

So this is my salute to naked Dutch girls! For teaching me that it’s human to be human. Wobbly bits and all…..