Except, not really in most European countries. If you visit a European beach, spa, or bath house it's almost guaranteed to be bathing suit optional, if not full nudity. I assumed Poland was no different. Last summer, we aw a few naked kids at the lake, and I know of at least one nudist beach at the favorite local lake.
I started to realize Poland was a little more conservative after our visit to Germany last year. Comparatively, the German beaches sported more kids with their bottoms out and more women with their bikini straps untied. Poland's relative prudishness was reconfirmed when I went to a pool with a Polish friend. I asked if I should get naked in the common space, or if I should try and find a more secluded changing area. Her non-committal shrug led me to getting undressed in the main changing room, but I realized thereafter that she chose to fine a more private spot.
That brings me to this weekend. Cameron and I took a lovely little trip to the Bieszczady Mountains in southeastern Poland. The hilly region is sprinkled with small towns and hiking trails. The national park was our main attraction, and we found a "resort and spa" that was only 25 minutes away from my decided-upon trailhead. We splurged a little for the "romance package" so that we could have roses and a jacuzzi tub in our room. It was silly, but fun!
As mentioned, there was a spa available to us. The hotel check-in process was all in Polish, and so although we understood that we needed to wear our robes to the spa, we didn't pick up any further details. Before heading down, Cameron used Google Translate on the literature in the room while I pursued the spa website. Nothing. We decided to wear our swimsuits and hope things would clear up once we saw the scene.
The spa door had a sign on it, but none of the infographics helped to clear up the mystery of whether or not to wear swimsuits. We huddled in the changing room trying to translate the sign (once again, thanks Google Translate). Ah ha! There was a line that translated to "wear swimsuits in the spa." That seemed clear enough, until we realized that it was under the "most common spa mistakes" section.
After minutes of whispered debate, I caught the attention of one of the employees and tried to ask if we should wear swimsuits in the spa. Of course I couldn't remember the Polish word for swimsuit, so the question was mostly me saying "without?" while pointing to my bikini top. Her response was equally unclear. She didn't say anything, just lightly shook her head once and did a single slashing motion with one hand. I took that to mean "no, do not wear your swimsuit" but it could have also been interpreted as "no, your interpretation is wrong; you should wear a swimsuit." Well, we took our swimsuits off, put our robes on, grabbed the towels and sheets that were provided, and finally went in.
Inside it was dark. The space was segregated so there were very few sight lines from one attraction to the next. There were two steam rooms, two foot baths, a jacuzzi tub, two Finish saunas, a cold water bath, and the showers. We washed off, then did a quick walk around. There were two other people in the jacuzzi tub, and despite the bubbles we could see they were wearing swim suits.
What to do? It was Cameron's first nude spa experience, and I was really hoping I wasn't putting him in a situation that would lead to lifelong trauma. We scurried off (in our robes) and huddled by the foot baths. From there, we could clearly see some infographics on the Finish spas that clearly showed a bikini with a slash through it—"no swimsuits!" We were in the right, but still insecure.
We did eventually get a shot at the jacuzzi, and we also tried out the steam sauna and the cold water bath before heading back to the room. Cameron said it was "fine" but he also asked that we didn't linger.
I know this story has gotten too long, but let me say I went back the next night (by myself). In the intervening hours we did some more research to continue to bolster our belief that we were right to enter the spa naked. So on night number two I went back, without a suit. It was me and one other woman. I was naked, she was not, but she still asked to join me in the jacuzzi. Then, her partner came out of the Finish spa, also covered. Thankfully he did not join the jacuzzi party until after I left for the foot bath. During that time, another couple came out of the Finish spa, also in bathing suits. I kept keeping to myself and moved to the cold water bath. In the time it took me to dunk my head under and pop up again, a family with a 12-year-old boy.
Yes, of eight people, one of whom was a child, I was the only naked one. Needless to say, I quickly showered off and left the spa. Turns out, Polish people don't like being naked in semi-public places, even when it is (probably) the rules.