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News, 4/21/2017

'Scrubbed' by Kristian Bruun

To mark both Finland 100 and Canada 150 we've asked Finnish Canadians, friends of Finland and Finnish friends of Canada to blog for us. Kristian Bruun, a Finnish Canadian actor starts the series with his sauna story 'Scrubbed'.

Toronto-born actor/writer/producer Kristian Bruun is a familiar

Kristian Bruun
Kristian Bruun

face as Donnie Hendrix on the sci-fi series Orphan Black and as Constable 'Slugger' Jackson on Murdoch Mysteries. He has worked extensively on stages and screens arounde the world, and hopes to add Finland to the list one day. He can be seen on the big screen in the comedies The Space Between, and First Round Down, both coming to theatres this summer. Upcoming projects include The Go-Getters directed by Jeremy LaLonde and Mary Goes Round by Molly Mc Glynn.

He is a graduate of Valley Forge Military Academy, Queen's University, and the George Brown Theatre School. You can follow Kristian Bruun on Twitter @TheBruun and Instagram @bonnycastle.  


by Kristian Bruun

“And make sure you get washed by the old lady!”, the young man declared, as his friends nodded in agreement.

I was in a bar, in the Kallio district of Helsinki, I was 32 years old and I was desperately trying to connect to my heritage.

The abridged conversation, fuelled by a few beers, went as follows:

“What should I do in Helsinki?”

“Have you had a sauna yet?”

“No! I definitely need to do that! Do you know a good one?”

“You should go to the traditional woodfire sauna! It’s around the corner.”

“And make sure you get washed by the old lady!”, he’s friend chimed in.

Kristian Bruun
Vanha Kirkko in Helsinki, the church where my grandparents were married.
Vanha Kirkko in Helsinki, the church where my grandparents were married.

The next day, with a fuzzy head, I grabbed my towel and walked over to Kotiharjun Sauna for my first truly Finnish sauna experience. I didn’t know what to expect, but I had some idea when I saw men standing outside the entrance in the icy april air in towels, drinking cans of Karhu beer. In the entrance, the thoroughly bored and unhelpful attendant accepted my payment and I went into the out of date dressing room, complete with old wooden lockers. Everyone was either naked or wrapped in a towel, so I followed suit. Unfortunately the only towel I had on me was a colourful Scooby Doo towel I picked up from my travels in Greece ten years before.

There were two doors, each with a sign I couldn’t read. Well I had a 50/50 chance, so I went with the one on the right. I was greeted by a pair of feet, a pair of legs and everything else that makes up a naked man laying on a table. He was being scrubbed with a loofa by an older woman. Wrong door! I apologized and went through door number two. The heat hit me like a sweaty hug and in the dark room was a wood fire oven (without pizzas), and tiered seating full of naked men, plus one foreigner in a brightly coloured Scooby Doo towel. I immediately felt like I didn’t belong.

Photo: Valtteri Hirvonen / Visit Helsinki
Kotiharjun Sauna in Kallio, Helsinki.
Kotiharjun Sauna in Kallio, Helsinki.

Not wanting to show any sign of intimidation, I quickly whipped my towel off and went to hang it on the wall, only to find no hooks anywhere. If fact there weren’t any towels anywhere, people just walked in naked. I found something I could sort of hang my towel on, and took a seat near the top. And I started to sweat. A lot. Every once in a while someone would throw a log into the oven.

There is no sense of time in a sauna, just a fight with oneself to endure the blasting heat. To stay long enough to benefit from the discomfort.

Eventually there was a mass exodus which I decided to join. Surely these men knew what to do next. I followed them into a shower room, which turned out to be connected to the other doorway with the naked man. I briefly pondered on the strange placement of the washing station by the doorway, a thought that would come back a little later.

I showered the sweat off and walked over to the old lady while she washed someone.

“Excuse me, do you speak English?

“A little.”

“How much to… um get washed?”

“12 Euros.”

“Aha aha. And how do I sign up for that?”

“Pay at the entrance and wait.”

“Oh. Is there a line or a list?”

“You’re next.”

“Ah. Ok great, I’ll go pay. Thank you.”

No response.

I grabbed my towel, went back to the attendant, and after fruitless conversation with the man, paid for my ‘bath’. Returning to the shower room, I stood awkwardly close to the table (but not too close) so that people would know that I was next. No one seemed to be jumping at the chance to be next. When she was done washing the man before me, she told me to wait while she cleaned the table, to my great relief. She then sprayed warm water on the table and brushed her hand over it. That was it.

“Lie down.”

“Um… which way?”

“Whichever side you want to start with.”

Deciding to get the front over with (and not wanting to immediately lie on my front on the ‘clean’ table) I hung up my towel and lay down on my back. Gone was the warmth of the sauna, gone was the coverage of the towel. She washed my hair then she set to work scrubbing my body with the still-warm loofa she used on the last man. Occasionally she would press down hard on my shoulders and tell me to ‘relax’ (which didn’t work), then pull on my arms and legs to get them to ease up. With every person entering the shower room at my feet a blast of cold air would travel up my legs. What little comfort I had was quickly shrinking.

How much would she wash? Everything? As the loofa traveled down my body towards my most covered of parts she would occasionally knock them with the loofa. That old, well-worn loofa. I couldn’t wait to be told to flip over.

When she was all done with both sides of me, (my private parts left alone and unwashed, thank god) I thanked her, grabbed my towel and went back to the lockers. My skin felt clean (and a bit raw), but I certainly wasn’t as relaxed as I thought I would be. The man who was on the table before me was sitting drinking a beer with his buddies.

“How was it?”, he asked.

“It was… great!”, I lied.

“Ya! Like a cheap massage!”

“Haha yes!”, I lied again.

Minutes later I was fully clothed and walking through Kallio wondering what had just happened. Clearly I wasn’t as comfortable in my own skin like these Finns were. Maybe that was the biggest thing I needed to discover in myself to feel like a Finn; to shed some of my polite Canadian stuffiness when it came to my body.

Many people have asked if I would ever go back and get washed by that old lady again, to which I reply: In a heartbeat.

Photo: Kristian Bruun
If you look closely you’ll see the towel in question, hanging to dry in the AirBnB I stayed in in Kallio.
If you look closely you’ll see the towel in question, hanging to dry in the AirBnB I stayed in in Kallio.


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Updated 4/24/2017

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