A Modest American in Europe

woman in American flag wrapped around her sitting on beach

Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

by Allison Ochs, M.S.W.
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My first year in Europe was a real shocker. I was so naive and so unprepared for what I was doing. I could write 10 stories just on the topic of nudity (and maybe I will one day), but today let us focus on the basics. The fact is if you are not used to taking public showers, changing in public or having people change in front of you, life in Europe can be a bit challenging at first.

Our first apartment was about two blocks from a lovely park in Kiel, Germany. We had an apartment with no balcony, and when the sun came out, we headed to that park. The first visits to there were not enjoyable for me. Alright, I’ll be honest: the whole first year I felt uncomfortable every time it was hot and we went out.

Germans are very comfortable with their bodies and nudity. This park was close to banks, offices and businesses and I would sit there in shock as women and men would strip down to their underwear, the women would fling their bras off and just stretch out with a sandwich for an hour soaking up the sun. After their hour break, they would just stand up, stretch and slowly put bra, business shirt, skirt and heels back on and stroll off, briefcase in hand. I honestly did not know where to look. My husband (who is German) was a student as well. We meet at the park a lot. He thought watching me be uncomfortable was funny but also surprising. He didn't think stripping to your underwear at lunch was strange and I did. We had many lengthy discussions about nudity.

Just this week, in chatting with another expat mom, we talked about how hard it is to deal with this. I have progressed after 28 years in Europe and can now change on a beach, and I am very free but still not entirely. That little girl from Farmington, Utah still lives in me. I will only go topless at a private pool with my family and I still don’t like being on nude beaches.

Some cultural traits are rooted. This one seems to be a big one for everyone. If you have trouble with it, you are not alone!