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Culture

American Magazine covers the “Sauna Wars” which almost tore a Westfjords town apart

By Staff

  • The Ísafjörður Swimming Hall The site of one of the more curious cultural clashes in Iceland in recent years, the "sauna-wars". Photo/visir.is

The US online magazine Slate, which covers current affairs, politics and culture, has published an in-depth analysis of the longstanding and bitter “sauna wars” which have shaken the small town of Ísafjörður in the Westfjords. The article, Titled “I Sit There Naked Until the Day I Die” How a debate over sauna nudity almost tore Iceland apart, is probably the most comprehensive analysis of this strange small-town argument published.

Read more: NYT finds geothermal public pools key to social harmony and well-being in Iceland

The author is no stranger to the finer points of Icelandic swimming pool culture. Dan Kois recently published a thoughtful analysis of the swimming pool culture of Iceland for in New York Times. The “sauna wars” of Ísafjörður revolve around the question whether people would be permitted to sauna in the nude, or whether they should be required to go to the sauna in their swimming trunks.

"The 70-year-old swimming hall, designed by the midcentury national architect Gudjón Samúelsson, has a very small sauna attached to one dressing room. (The dressing rooms are swapped daily so both men and women get a chance to steam.) Recently a small laminated sign was tacked next to the door—at the mayor’s behest, according to pool employees: “PLEASE WEAR A SWIMSUIT OR A TOWEL WHEN GOING TO THE SAUNA.” Factions had formed. An open letter had been posted. An article had run in the local newspaper. It had been reported as far away as Reykjavik."

We at Iceland Magazine have covered this conflict in some detail in recent months. The story is a great window into the enormous importance swimming pools, and swimming pool etiquette plays in Icelandic society, as well as a reminder that these social rules, as all social rules, remain contested and are constantly being negotiated.

Read more: Gentlemen visiting Sundhöllin swimming pool must be reminded their head is not located between their legs

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