Getting healthy & nude in Austria

I may joke about it often, but when it comes to healthy living, Austrians really do have their priorities straight. Getting up early on a Sunday to go for a hike in the woods was never, ever my idea of an ideal Sunday morning, but here it seems to be a regular family habit. There’s a few ways that the Austrian attitude to healthy living, traditional home-made meals and body image in general has started to impact my own attitude to fitness and, shockingly, shifted my Sunday focus to hiking instead of brunch. Well, at least to hiking a little bit BEFORE brunch. Here’s why:

1. Austrians think about exercise socially. Throughout my life (and maybe this is different for the dedicated fitness fanatics) I always thought of exercise as work. Not a fun pastime, but hard, time-consuming work and effort. You HAVE to go to the gym screamed TV, magazines and (loudest of all) the guilty voice in my head. Sports and P.E class in school were enforced – despite my very clear lack of skills in the ball-throwing department. Running was about the most tortuous thing I could imagine (still is). I tricked myself into exercise by doing fun things, like dance, ballet, calisthenics and running around in drama classes. But here, exercise is a means to a social end. Hiking is something done with a group of friends with beers to celebrate afterward in a local hut. Volleyball teams spring up at the drop of a hat in summertime. Skiing is about the most social sport I know – with the little breaks for schnapps making it a particularly appealing ‘sport’ – generally done in friendly groups. The point being, Austrians don’t see sport as work, it’s a natural extension of their interaction with their mates. Genius.**

DSC04737The views when hiking on a Sunday don’t hurt

2. Austrians accept their bodies. When I did join a gym my first year in Austria, the number one thing I noticed was the ease with which the women around me accepted their bodies. Not in a flaunting way, but in a very ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ nonchalant manner. It was incredible. They were of course in a gym to exercise, but there was none of the ‘I hate-my-x-body-part’ and ‘oh I wish I was a size ten like you’ negative type of conversation and behaviour that is so ingrained in Aussie women. Australian (and I think Western) female body culture is primarily about shaming yourself for being fat or not having a thigh gap, or not being ‘curvy’ in all the right places. Here, women of all shapes and sizes were comfortably wandering around the change rooms naked- young, old, fat, thin, hairy, freckled, you name it. This is a society completely at ease with its human form. Either that or I was deeply misunderstanding the old ladies’ german conversations. Why and how did they get so confident? Well, I think it’s because…

3. Austrians are around naked bodies from a young age.  I haven’t yet written about my first European sauna experience. That story deserves a post all of its own, but suffice to say, it was my third date with S and definitely more than I bargained for! What I’ve discovered since that shock introduction to nude-friendly folk, is that Austrians are much more comfortable with their bodies. Whether they are in the sauna, or sun baking at a nudist beach or even generally sitting by a lakeside, there is a 95% chance that someone nearby will be naked. Not gratuitously. Just straight up enjoying the sauna/beach/lake with their kit off. Austrian kids are surrounded by this attitude their whole lives. I’ve seen families swimming in a lake all completely naked, together with their young children. Rather than being creepy – which would be the classic reaction of my repressed inner-Englishwoman – it seemed natural and normal. In fact, thinking on it afterwards, I wondered if our ‘western’ repressive, overly-politically-correct attitude to nudity may contribute to the high rates of anorexia, bulimia, not to mention obesity in Australia and the US. If kids see realistic human bodies in their own backyards or beaches with their scars, flaws and rolls, instead of bodies that are photoshopped or distorted from plastic surgery, surely that can only be a good thing? I’d love to know what you guys think…

Non-gratuitious and most definitely non-sexy nudity by the lakeside (stock photo imagery used!!)

4. Have you seen older Austrians?? They are a hardy, hearty bunch. Whittled from years of hiking, being outdoors and I can only assume a super-human strength to digest and process metric tonnes of pork and potatoes over a lifetime, older Austrians are extremely healthy. It can’t hurt that the government helps support retirees by sending them on yearly ‘health and wellness’ retreats for 2 weeks, known as ‘Kur‘. This is part-funded by the government and from the look of Austrian retirees I’d say a worthy investment.

old arnie

 This is, uh, not quite what all older Austrians are like….but ridiculous Arnie photos are the best!

5. Incidental exercise is easy. In Vienna safe bike lanes are plentiful. Elevators in old-buildings are slow, or non-existent, so you take the stairs. The city is flat and well-designed enough to walk around it without excessive exertion. You can get by without owning a car at all, which removes the temptation to sit in it for ten minutes instead of walking for twenty minutes to get to your destination.

All in all, Austria makes enjoying exercise feel easy, rather than like hard work. This weekend they even had an entire festival in Heldenplatz to celebrate and encourage people to play more sports, the ‘Tag der Sports’, full of different sports clubs promoting their specialties:

 

DSC05420

 Where Judo suits were accepted and cool

DSC05423

 Simulated skiing on grass

DSC05424

I have no idea what sport this is, but it looks totally badass and ninja related

In short, the Austrian attitude to sport is teaching me the simplest of lessons – to finally enjoy it, and embrace the body I have. To find the form of exercise that works. For me that’s a mix of cycling to work, early-morning Blogilates sessions and yes – hiking on a weekend with S. And if you need the lure of a delicious brunch at the end to keep you going, that’s ok too.

DSC05123

Home-made brunch is the best brunch!

**NB perhaps this is true of any country, but as I am, ahem, a slow developer in the ‘enjoying sports’ realm I’ve only noted the Austrian penchant for it!!

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12 comments

  1. chacha24

    Late to the game here, but the thing that makes the nuding most interesting is its contrast to the formality of clothed Austrian life. The “Sie”ing and the titles and the buttondownness. I have not yet run into a co-worker or someone I knew from a business setting at a sauna, but I think that would prove to be a huge social challenge. Do you chit chat? Ignore each other? Stare (LOL….reference to your comment re this)? I’m all about co-ed nuding with strangers. But how about acquaintances? Or co-ed old friend nuding. I am now imagining this with visiting American friends. Pure comic gold. Please write about this soon — I need tips for that fateful day when I actually KNOW someone in the sauna. Grues Got, Herr Mueller! I’ll say that again.

    • Mathias

      It’s really fun to read about the view on austria from the point of view of someone who came here from an other country. Thanks for this perspective to all of you, I really enjoy it 🙂
      But let me explain, as an Austrian living in Vienna, something about the Sauna and Nudity-thing you mentioned.
      First: it’s not a contrast to the formality of clothing. It’s the other way around: if you go to a Sauna, you have to be naked. Everything else would be against the dress-code in the sauna, and not appropriate. I’ve seen Foreigners being kicked out the sauna by the ‘saunawart’ (employee of the wellness area) in a well known touristic village in the mountains because they wanted to enter with shorts. And I think that is ok, because it’s against the dress code in a sauna, like it’s a problem in any other place, you want to enter without respecting the ‘formalities’ 😉
      Second: if you go to the sauna and meet someone you know, act as you always do. You both have the appropriate ‘outfit’. Talk about things you would talk about, when you meet a colleague in a bar or restaurant. It’s not a big thing. Sauna is a social event. We had a sauna in our company (unfortunately it was closed, because they needed the space for a ‘ Kindergarten’, which, without doubts, is very important, too), and it was very normal to meet colleagues and chefs there, talking about the job or some private things. Just like you do, if you meet people you know in other places. Ok, not everybody want to meet people he knows in other places, that’s the same in austria. But, in this case you would avoid the places to meet them, and many people do this. And it’s really fun, to go to a sauna with friends. Women or men. Everybody is naked, and that makes no difference to ‘everybody has clothes’, it’s normal.
      Third: not everybody in austria feels comfortable being naked in public. There are a lot of people avoiding these places. A lot of people who are shy, or ashamed with their bodies. They don’t go to a sauna or an area they don’t feel well to be. That’s ok, I think, unless there are enough places for everybody, where they feel good. It’s your own decision.
      And fourth: sauna is a really good place, to do something for your body. No one goes there just to see other nudes. And if someone does, be assure that he will be kicked out within minutes in an Austrian sauna. It’s just healthy for your heart and improves your immunity-system. And it doesn’t work well, when you have clothes. It’s simple…. Just respect the dresscode, like everybody else there do, and act like you always do 😉

      • carlyhulls

        Solid advice – I think I will need some time to wrap my head around meeting colleagues in a Sauna, but I definitely notice the health benefits of visiting a Sauna, especially in the winter. We had a similar experience in Tirol where the Irish tourists were wearing their shorts and swimwear in the Sauna and the owners told us they had to renovate or fix the Sauna every year because tourists in wet swimwear ruined the woodwork!! I think Austria has the right attitude to being comfortable and social without clothing, it just takes us ‘Auslander’s’ a while to adjust 😉

  2. lastminutedaytour

    Yet Smoking was prohibited in tourist place due to make worst environment there. Nude beaches are very funny and sexy style of enjoying bath with fiend and other members.

  3. superstoegi@yahoo.de

    Hi Carly, I read in one of your last posts that you got all exited that they had aperol spritzer in Australia. I’m currently in Noosa and they have it here as well!!! It seems to spread all over Australia now 🙂 Just thought you want to know. Keep up the funny stories! It makes me as an Austrian get to know my own country.

    See proof attached

    Stögi

    >

    • carlyhulls

      That’s amazing!! Thanks Stögi – it really is making it across the oceans hahaha. Hopefully the Aperols are helping you survive the summer sun up there in Noosa 🙂 Glad you’re enjoying my little slices of Austrian life.

  4. Corinna Kern

    You have got us figured out pretty well! 🙂 As an Austrian I had a grand time and a lots of grins reading your ‘rant’. I will be forwarding it to a large circle of English speaking friends! Nicely done!

  5. Kelly

    Agree with much of this, but you forgot to mention one of the highest smoking rates in Europe. That ain’t healthy!

  6. Paul Harris

    Regarding saunas, what you forgot to add Carly is that here in Austria the saunas are mixed and naked. Everytime I take international guests to my fitness club they turn deep shades of red (from top to toe) when they are confronted with members of the opposite sex naked, next to them, in the showers and saunas. Having lived here for many years I too see how stupidly embarrassed foreigners look sweating in their bathing costumes between the naked locals.

    • carlyhulls

      Paul you are so right – I have a whole other rant ready and waiting for a dedicated post about correct Sauna culture!! The initial introduction is awkward, but now I cringe to see tourists in board shorts at Saunas – plus it ruins the bloody Sauna. Foreigners hey? 🙂

      • Paul Harris

        I remember when the first ‘Holmes Place’ fitness club opened up in Vienna, they had built just a tiny little sauna! Viennese people just didn’t understand what was going on. Perhaps this could be a new business concept for Australia – ‘Austrian Saunas’ or perhaps ‘Viennese Saunas’ sounds better? Not really what you would expect in very conservative Vienna don’t you think?

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