The Dutch Spa
Updated: Sep 13
My partner and I are from two different countries. He is a Dutch pirate and I am a South African lioness. My culture and heritage is deeply influenced by and previously rooted in the Dutch culture and this leads to many hilarious and rewarding similarities and differences. For instance, in South Africa one of our languages is called Afrikaans, which I speak. It is very close to Dutch and the differences between the two languages bring us constant entertainment. The comedy lies in the 'same but different'.
My New Normal
The similarities and differences in our international love (Cue Pitbull) were taken to new heights for me when we treated ourselves to a spa day outside Rotterdam, Holland.
A clean cut, tranquil and very normal looking spa entrance led to a perfectly nice spa receptionist who checked our booking reservation and asked if we'd like to purchase any extras. Our post pandemic answer was, 'No'. We know better than to turn a 39 euro day into a 116 euro day. Off we went to the changing rooms. I busted through hallways looking for the little dress sign for 'women'- nothing. I also noticed a man and woman in the changing room. Mixed bathroom? 'That's cool', I thought. Its not like we'll all parade around while we change. Yes, a very rational changing room. I began to put on my bikini but very quickly found out from my partner that my bikini would not be needed in the spa. Not in the saunas or the jacuzzis or the pools. Because it was totally, unabashedly nude. I could not stop laughing. Today would be a nude day for me. My partner didn't even think to tell me - that's how normal it was. He forgot that this wasn't commonplace everywhere. But how nude is nude exactly? What was the etiquette? I figured one would just skillfully slip the robe and towel off just before entering the sauna or pools. Easy enough. Wrong again. Full-on-walking-around-naked-everywhere nude. I had never seen so many naked human bodies. It was fantastic.
After seeing my 50th relaxed phallus, I thought to myself, if alien races came down and saw us they would think we're too pink, and too soft. He countered that maybe they were pinker and softer. Good point. My day was incredibly freeing and prone to philosophical discussions about culture, sex, choice, brain connections and intimacy.
I'm definitely one of the 'naked friends' in my friend group in South Africa. I enjoy being naked when I'm in naked spaces (like my apartment, pre spa) and I am comfortable showing some skin outside. But I had never done something like this. The incredible thing was that this was just totally normal and included all ages, genders and races. My Anglo-Saxon ass knew from the start that sexualization was not present here, I could feel it. Safety existed in the pools and saunas and jacuzzis and I didn't see a single cell phone out. How did the Dutch culture get it right to be so casually, non sexually naked? 'I'm sure there's a book about this', I mused as I heard a 70 plus woman chatting to her naked friends about what they'd cook for dinner that night. I was witnessing a very South African cultural chat - without clothes. Something I knew I'd never see on the tip of Africa, which made it even more profound. It was like seeing my friends' parents chatting about dessert recipes, a-la-no-clothes. Hilarity was present in this slight difference and interest was peaked in the established groupings that existed in my brain. I thought places like this were just reserved for certain groups. Which 'kinds', I didn't know - never thought about it really. Here I saw people who could have been my family, my friends, my neighbors in South Africa. Did I mention they were all naked... Brain fry.
I thought places like this were reserved for the desert. Or parties that I still had to go to. But here we were. Twenty minutes from my boyfriend's parents' house. I realized how problematic nakedness is when it is implied that it is equal to sex. It is, of course, not equal. How normal and innocent it is when you acknowledge that they are two completely different things, not connected at all. And never ever to be implied or assumed. That's the big and necessary difference. I experienced how the groupings in our brains about how people behave or don't behave get rocked most when we are faced with them. In this case, very faced with them... How important it is for us then to think critically, to reevaluate and bypass our existing brain patterns when experience isn't available to us.
'If one never experiences a non sexualized space, how does one know how sexualization has crept in where it doesn't belong'? I posed my fifth philosophical question to my boyfriend whilst floating in a purple lit room with ivy leaves hanging from the ceiling and some 15 naked people swimming around me like nymphs, I thought of Texas and the abortion ban. I felt the outrage to politicize a human body. And I felt bliss for being in a place where I could relax, dropping all inhibitions and societal preconceived connections. How incredible and surprising that places like this exist in the world and that I could be here for 39 euros. Another plus side of dating internationally - naked spas, and more specifically Dutch focussed- renewed appreciation for finding a good financial deal.
I felt a renewed gratitude for the intimacy with the person I choose. Intimacy really means so much more than a space with no clothes. I knew this, but in this space I really felt the ownership of my choice. The beauty of it. And how precious that is. A human right. Choice is so incredibly intimate and important. It is a product of love and a fuel for life. And this, I thought, is what I feel on my heart when I know many in this world do not get to practice it.
If an alien race comes to Earth and sees this spa, I think they'd be fine not declaring war on us. We're just too soft. And they'd have a great time here. Five stars for the Dutch spa - highly recommend. Bikinis not needed.