An early edition of my art-for-travelers guidebook featured a camera-toting David — full frontal nudity, Michelangelo-style — on the cover. My publisher's sales reps complained that in more conservative parts of the US, bookstores were uncomfortable stocking it. A fig leaf would help sales.
When it comes to great art, I don't like fig leafs. But I proposed, just for fun, that we put a peel-able fig leaf on the cover so readers could choose whether they wanted their book with or without nudity. My publisher said that would be too expensive. I offered to pay half the cost (10 cents a book times 10,000). He went for it, and I had the fun experience of writing “for fig leafs” on a $500 check. Perhaps that needless expense just bolstered my wish that Americans were more European in their comfort level with nakedness.
Sometimes it comes down to good sightseeing advice. Whether in a German spa, a Finnish sauna, a Croatian beach, or a Turkish hammam (I can't come up with an English example), a fun part of travel can be getting naked with strangers. Recently I happened to be in Germany's famous spa town, Baden-Baden, at the same time that one of our tour groups was there. I told the guide (who was a German) that I was excited for this great opportunity for her group to enjoy the spa. She disagreed, saying, “No one's going. They can't handle the nudity. That's how it is with American visitors.”
Getting Americans comfortable in the spas with naked Europeans has long been a challenge and a frustration for me as a guide. I care because, once people get used to it, I find they consider it a great experience. My first European spa visit was with my wife and some German friends — a classy, good-looking young couple. We were swept into the changing area with no explanation, and suddenly the Germans were naked. Eventually we realized everyone was just there to relax. We eased up and got more comfortably naked. It's not sexual...simply open and free. Those skittish American travelers don't know what they're missing.
About This Entry
You are reading "American Fig Leafs", an entry posted on 09 September 2009 by Rick Steves.