Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Hot Comedy Show in a Finnish Sauna- Birch Branches

Even at the height of summer, the weather in Finland equates to a dreary wintry day in Los Angeles. "Anything to warm up," is the unspoken Finnish motto, explaining my host's description of a visit to the local sauna as "a highlight of Helsinki."
Being a Yes Man who accepts of 95% of all suggestions, and having earlier declined a drunk teenager's dare to play chicken with an oncoming  train, I was statistically cornered.
Like all else in Nordic countries, saunas here aren't cheap--
Entrance: 12 Euro for that privilege alone.
But where they really make bank are the up-sells that add a uniqueness to the experience, and here I am referring to the 6 euros they charge for frozen, plastic wrapped branches of birch.

"What do I do with the birch branch?"
"Well first you remove the plastic wrapping," explains the owner.
"Sounds intriguing," I remark.
"Then you thaw the branch in a bucket of warm water."
"Excellent plan."
"Then you head into the sauna, and you hit yourself with the branch."
"And this custom is a by-product of the Finnish predilection for high alcohol consumption ?"
Ignoring my pointed question, "You keep hitting yourself. You hit yourself hard and it feels so good."
"And are there any other benefits?" I remark, as I carefully root through the freezer, picking my branch in the same loving manner an executioner might choose his axe.
"Oh God yes," she excitedly explains, "It makes your blood circulate, and it makes you smell so good afterwards. It's amazing."
"A remarkable sales pitch," I remark as I reach for the Euros necessary to participate in this sado-masochist ritual.

I enter the sauna with my now thawed birch, sit, and begin hitting myself with the branch.
If it sounds remarkably stupid, that's because it is.
First of all, I exercise so to maintain good blood circulation, secondly, under normal circumstances I'd consider being hit with a branch abuse rather than pleasure. Plus, it hurts.
But I'm not describing all this to show you how the Finns pull down the big bucks they are so famous for. There's a story here ...

Now, I don't open my mouth so there is little reason for others to believe I am anything but a local Finn. No one really pays any heed to the normal everyday, run in the mill branch whacker ... the exception being a Chinese tourist, who is doing his best to keep a poker face regarding his surprise about this insane practice.
THWHACK. I smack myself and watch his face register a bemused look on it.
THWHACK- the slight grin amplifies.
THWHACK- it grows again.
Now, honestly, the hit stung, but the echo of the TWHACK reverberating through the chamber nearly makes our Chinese customer lose it. He rises and exits the sauna, barely able to stifle a laugh, which is audibly released as the sauna door shuts behind him. I chuckle to myself and put down the branch, having zero interest in continuing this masochistic practice.
But lo and behold, minutes later, refreshed from a cool shower, our Chinese friend re-enters. Instantly, I pick-up my branch and start repeatedly hitting myself. THWACK, THWACK, THWACK, THWACK ... he's walking back to his seat, but now he's totally losing it, laughing out loud, hard.
The harder I continue to hit myself, the harder our Chinese man laughs, until the Finns inside realize what's going on and my chorus of laughter grows. Me, hot, and likely covered in welts, rises up, walks down the sauna's stadium like stairs, stands in the center of the room, takes a small bow, and exits.
I might have got ripped off of my 18 Euros, but everyone else in the sauna got their money's worth. Be sure to tip your waitresses.
selfie with the tool of comedy afterwards

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