Culture Shock: Nudity in Germany

By: Brea Darnell

When it comes to culture shock, of all the things Americans will find the most ‘shocking’ (heh) when coming to Germany is the complete absence of being shy when it comes to nudity. In Germany nudity is a normal part of life. Under everyone’s clothes you are naked, after all, so why be shy about showing a little skin? This is evident in many aspects of German living and as an American you will probably notice it fairly quickly upon arriving. While you won’t see people walking the streets in their birthday suits, you will notice a few things that are different from the U.S. Some of these things you might notice are the abundance of sex shops with signs displaying naked women (and men) in the windows for advertising. When you tune into German television you might think you accidentally stumbled upon an X-rated movie only to find that it is a commercial in the middle of normal programming. More surprising is when you go to one of German’s famed spas or saunas and you are told it is not permitted to wear your swimsuit inside the sauna. The horror! As an American this is very shocking to find out and may sway you from even going to one of the baths. But don’t fret too much, in many saunas you can wear a towel to cover up (the Germans do this too). Another situation you might run into (we sure did) is when you drive or walk past a spa. Many of these have outdoor areas that aren’t covered from a passerby’s glance, or the look of complete shock on an American's face once they realize a bunch of old men are hanging out, quite literally, on the rooftop together.

With this in mind, it may come as no surprise that this transcends into other areas of German life including your visit to the doctor. If you are completely shy about even being in a swimsuit publicly then you might have a hard time seeing a German doctor. Let me elaborate. I decided a few days ago to find a physical therapist that might be able to better address my back problems that I’ve been having. I found a place that speaks English nearby and luckily they had a cancellation and were able to fit me into their schedule yesterday. I had a friend last week that was telling me about her experience with her physical therapist. She told me that they basically just told her to strip down to bra and underwear. This wasn't a complete surprise to me as I already had an idea of what to expect having been through two foot surgeries here in the past year. The word privacy doesn't exactly exist, and you quickly learn to abandon any pride you once held. So what if your hospital administered cover-up didn't cover you up, stop acting so American!

So armed with this knowledge and knowing how different things are in Germany, I made sure to wear my workout clothes to the appointment. And sure enough, he asked me to get down to bra and underwear. What cracks me up is that, unlike if this were to happen in the states, they don’t even leave the room. But don’t worry, it’s no big deal. Why leave the room when they can just stand there while you undress?

This PT has been working with both Germans and Americans for about twenty years, so he is very familiar with the cultural differences. He asked if I wanted him to leave the room because he knows how Americans are. He also told me that in his experience Americans are either very shy or go the completely opposite direction and over the top with things. I like to think I’ve already been de-sensitized for the most part from my ‘American’ ways, but some of my Americanness (I know that's not a word) must have started to show because at one point he nicely reminded me that he sees all sorts of people and has been doing this for a long time. I guess you can't undo 26 years in just a year in the German system.

Once you live here and go to see a doctor you realize there’s really no point in being shy. It only makes things more awkward than necessary. It's their job to get in there and do what they have to do. As with all things over here: When in Germany, do as the Germans do!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingBrea Darnell is an American expat living in Germany. Blog description: U.S. Expat living in Germany. Traveling, writing and photographing my experiences. She moved to Germany with her husband and their yellow lab in September 2011 and now live in Stuttgart
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Contest Comments » There are 6 comments

Sami Veloso wrote 7 years ago:

I too was shocked when we lived in Germany, over 20 years ago and went to a public swimming pool, and afterwards going for a shower, I saw all those women and men showering together naked!! I just turned back and ran to my husband to tell him I could do such a thing, and put my clothes over the wet swim suit! Another time in a park, while lying face down in the grass reading a magazine(with clothes on) a naked guy came and asked me to look after his dog while he went for a swim in the river. I nearly had a heart attack when I looked up and saw his "dingy" hanging above my head! I lived in Germany for 6 years but never got used to it!

Annie wrote 7 years ago:

But, seriously. "stop acting so American!" haha We joke about that all the time. Modesty? What modesty? Oh, that advertisement/statue/person-in-the-window-across-the-street is naked? So. At least you get your under clothes at the doc. In Belgium, no such luck! Here's to embracing our new European (birthday suit) self confidence!

Emma Kaufmann wrote 7 years ago:

I know what you mean some of the things you see on German tv regarding nudity can put you off your dinner! They really let it all hang out. It it great to be so unselfconscious about nudity I think so I say just relax and don't be shy!

Dee wrote 7 years ago:

Try going to the gynecologists - even better, a male gynecologists - who tells you to strip down to no bottoms (like, nothing!) and walk across his office (literally half naked!) to sit on the chair, spread-eagle style, and wait for him to come over and examine you. That thought was enough to literally run out of there (he was also quite creepy!). Since then I've been going to a female gynecologist, however, the procedure is unfortunately not much different... big shocker for me here in Germany as a South African as well!

Linda Fuente wrote 7 years ago:

Great article. At my age (let's just say over 50) modesty goes out the window. I like the open minded culture. It would have made life a lot less stressful.

Francois Nel wrote 6 years ago:

Come one guys... It's like saying if they jump in the fire will you? You can still make decisions for yourself and according to your ethical / moral code. Just because another country through away certain things doesn't mean you have to when you were there. I was there and went to saunas, etc in the nude and quite enjoyed it, but it's not as innocent as everyone wants you to believe in my opinion. In Europe sex is much more open and common and innocence less preserved in my personal opinion. Decide for yourself.. don't be a sheep just blindly following cause everyone else does. You're not comfortable with something, good, stand your ground.

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