A Pair of Italians and a Naked Sauna

The expat life is one of adventure, discovery, glamour and … bumbling social ineptitude. And so for the September edition of NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches, our ongoing guest-post project, our four expat bloggers are divulging their most embarrassing expat moments.

Yours Truly of Adventures in Expatland (North) will demonstrate that a small vowel can cause big problems. Russell, who blogs at In Search of a Life Less Ordinary (South), discovers that wherever you are in the world, people enjoy a good laugh at the newbie’s expense. Erica of Expatria,Baby (East) writes of disastrous first impressions that last and last and last. And finally, Maria who blogs at I Was an Expat Wife, reveals how her expat mantra of “try new things” led her astray.

I hope that you enjoy this month’s post by Russell here on this site, and please do check out all of the other posts. (I’m over at Maria’s Western site, in Canada.) There are many, many laughs to be had! 


Sometimes expat life can be far too serious. Homesickness this, isolation that.  Hard to fit in, impossible to give up. It’s enough to drive any normal person insane.

But there is a lighter side to this life. Does it involve funny moments? Yes. Can it be embarrassing? Often. Is it at my expense? Always.

On too many occasions, I find myself in a distant land, surrounded by Johnny Foreigners without a familiar face in sight, only to drop an absolute social faux pas, a good ole cultural clanger. It might be a communication mix-up, some sort of language barrier, or
just a painfully awkward moment when I stick my size 10 boot right in it. Whatever the reason, the outcome is always the same. A red face, eyes cast downwards, and a pressing need to be swallowed up by the nearest hole in the ground.

I cast my mind back to a grizzled Canadian friend of mine. The traditional type with old-fashioned ways of doing things. And a bit of a comedian to boot. This pal of mine offered to take me to the gym one afternoon not long after my grand arrival in Canada. I’d been
staying at his house, using it as a kind of half-way home – in other words, I was in need of my own space, bored, and generally annoying the crap out of him. The gym would be a welcome break for us both.

Let’s take a traditional Canadian sauna, he suggested after our low intensity, Sunday afternoon workout.

A Key in the Lock of a Sauna Room www.adventuresinexpatland.comSure, I said, having enjoyed this kind of thing many a time in the UK but silently wondering how a Canadian sauna differed (same heat, different country?).

In the changing rooms, he told me I needed to strip off. Completely. This, he said, was the Canadian way of “taking a sauna”.

Strange, I thought, wondering what the hell was going down in the nation’s many steam rooms and spa baths. Was this even legal? But, sure, I said. Let’s do this the Canadian way. Naked.

Suitably ‘sans clothes’ and trying (but failing) to cover my modesty, I made my way through the changing room, attracting second looks from a couple of my male counterparts. Jealousy is all, I assured myself. I’ve still got it, I noted far too confidently.

Unperturbed, I entered the sauna to find a room full of appropriately clothed Canadians, including my appropriately clothed Canadian buddy sat in the far corner smiling inappropriately from ear to ear.

What the ****? I squeaked out from behind my small hand towel.

Welcome to Canada, he grinned, and have a nice day.

By the way, have you met my Canadian friend?  He’s the comedian.

Fast forward to Australia and thankfully there have been no naked saunas. But there has been a pair of rather embarrassing Italians.

Being a European Brit who lived close to Europe, I often holidayed on the continent. Board shorts weren’t the rage then; however, tight figure-hugging Lycra shorts were (and still are). The Italians adored these teeny tiny restrictive things judging by the
large numbers wearing them on the beaches of Greece and Spain so I promptly christened them “my pair of little Italians”. Them and I went everywhere together in the holiday resorts of Europe. It was a decent, honest, working relationship.

On my inaugural visit to Australia, call it a fact-finding trip if you will, I had the opportunity to meet my future wife’s good friends for the first time and combine this with a visit to the legendary Aussie beach.

Beaches in Australia are something to behold. They are as iconic as the ‘Barbie’. Amazonian women with long blonde hair, fabulous looks and small, almost non-existent bikinis glide along the golden sand. Tanned Australian men with their muscular, athletic bodies strut up and down the shorefront in their manly board shorts, surfboards and
sun cream at the ready. It can be quite an intimidating place for the first-timer.

With this in the back of my mind, I stripped down to my swimwear and jogged over to the water’s edge. For reasons unknown to me at the time, the hairs on the back of my neck began to stand up. I had that unnatural feeling of being watched by large numbers of people.

Looking nervously back, all I could see were my wife’s friends rolling around on the sand, howling with laughter, as my love of the ‘Italians’ became all too apparent. Apparently, most of the locals sat on the beach found it quite funny to watch a pasty tall
English guy wearing tight Lycra shorts stumble down to the surf.

I was not to be deterred. As the beach dwellers looked on, I jumped into the water, proud of my ability to ignore their laughter and assured that these nay sayers would eventually be converted to the way of the ‘little Italians’.

After diving down to the bottom of the four foot shallows, I shot up out of the ocean like the bronzed, athletic Adonis that I wanted to be, but was so obviously not.

Much to my abject horror, the Italians were long gone, and so was my modesty. Again. How embarrassing.


Image Credit: FlickrCreative Commons wstryder

Russell VJ Ward is a British expat living on Sydney’s Northern Beaches in Australia. He lived in the UK, before emigrating to Canada (Vancouver and Ottawa), then most recently to Sydney, Australia (his wife’s home city). Read more about his expat search for a life less ordinary at www.insearchofalifelessordinary.com. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/russellvjward.


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