Will the UK accept Finland's diplomatic naked sauna policy

With friends in the sauna, James Landale

For years, Finnish diplomats have used saunas as a comfortable setting for debating international policies and finding solutions to issues. There is one now in the UK. The BBC's James Landale joined the new sauna society inside Finland's embassy in London to learn more about how it operates and what the appeal is.

International summits, serious negotiations, and elegant receptions where guests indulge in champagne and pricey candies are just a few examples of how diplomacy can take many different forms. However, Finnish diplomats claim to have a special tool at their disposal that allows them to interact with people in a special way—but only if the recipient is willing to strip off.

In the Finnish embassy in Washington, DC, as well as other embassies around the world, there has been a diplomatic sauna society for many years. Following its opening the previous year, there is now one in the embassy's basement in London as well.

"Sauna diplomacy" has an easy to follow format. Finnish diplomats extend invitations to their associates to visit the British embassy. Once everyone has been introduced and had a drink, it's time to change. The women go alone to the sauna. The men get their turn once they're finished. At the conclusion, everyone congregates for another beverage and a quick snack.

Refer to it as naked networking. It appears to work too.

According to Heli Suominen, press advisor at the Finnish embassy in the United Kingdom, "Sauna is an old Finnish tradition, an integral part of Finnish way of life.". Building friendships and trust are the two main focuses of sauna diplomacy, according to her.

It fosters a conducive environment for open dialogue. Being partially clothed makes it easier to forget your roles and titles because everyone is treated equally. Consequently, you can actually learn more. Which is one way of putting it.

It is believed that becoming hot and sweaty relaxes everyone involved, fosters trust, lowers tensions, and makes relationship-building easier. And it was exactly like that when I participated in a sauna diplomacy event in London.

Women in sauna at London's Finnish embassy
Separate sessions for men and women are had in the sauna.

There are unambiguous guidelines. Men and women both sweat together while taking a shower and dressing in bathing suits or towels. You are given a "bum towel" as soon as you enter to sit on as heat-protection. My sauna's thermometer indicated that it was about 80C inside. you start to perspire while conversing. Barriers fall down very quickly.

There is something incredibly intimate about being crammed into a tiny, dimly lit space with five other men. Sauna diplomacy does not always work because some cultures are less used to near-nudity in public. However, when I asked if anyone was uneasy, nobody responded in the affirmative.

Diplomat Federico Bianchi, who currently works for the European Union in London, says he enjoyed it because it was so different from doing diplomacy with his standard tools of the trade, such as a sharp suit and a cell phone.

Being unclothed and unable to rely on your appearance and the impression you believe your counterpart may have of you is peculiar, Bianchi says. "You are only allowed to rely on your own words and what you say. ".

Finland's leaders have occasionally engaged in more overt diplomacy in the sauna. Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union's president at the time, was convinced to permit Finland's integration with the West by Finland's Cold War leader Urho Kekkonen in a sauna session that lasted all night. When Vladimir Putin visited Helsinki in 2005, he went to a sauna with Tarja Halonen's husband, the Finnish president, and said it was "a wonderful experience.".

But nowadays, cultural engagement is more important in sauna diplomacy. The sauna society in Washington, DC, was formerly run by Sanna Kangasharju, a Finnish diplomat who is currently employed by the European Parliament.

It was incredibly well-liked, she claims. Everyone coveted the ticket to the sauna society as it evolved into a sort of underground phenomenon. We were all vying for the attention of the reporters and members of Congress because every country has an embassy in Washington. We could only invite 25 people once a month on a Friday evening, so once you made something that was a little bit hard to get, you wanted to have that ticket. ".

James Landale and friends in the sauna

Without the sauna, Sanna believes she would not have built such a substantial network in the capital of the US. They want a unique experience, she claims. "Oh, I didn't recognize you with your clothes on," you can say when you meet new people at a reception. You desire membership in that group. ".

For many, sex will undoubtedly be the elephant in the room. Both have a connection in some cultures. But not in Finland, claims Heli.

Even more than other places where you meet people, the Finnish sauna is very clearly a non-sexual space, according to the woman. It's a safe space for everyone, and that's almost sacred to us. Everyone should feel welcome and respected in the sauna. ".

Sometimes, diplomacy entails overindulging in food and beverages. Long hours of work may also be required. But after a night of diplomatic sauna sessions, we felt good and the stresses of the day melted away.

We were given a certificate at the door stating that we were members of the Diplomatic Sauna Society. Its tagline is, "All people are created equal, but nowhere more so than in a sauna.

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