By SHERRY VACIK
“You just need to get over it,” my Czech husband and his European friends tell me about the one aspect of life in the Czech Republic I find impossible to embrace: public nudity.
Much of the European lifestyle I find liberating. A slower clock. Their understanding of how to take a vacation from work. Their love and appreciation for the arts. I don’t think badly of those who enjoy public nudity, however I cannot seem to adapt or feel comfortable with it. My very strict Christian upbringing in the American Midwest, including a stint in Oklahoma — a place known as “the buckle on the Bible Belt” — makes it difficult to convert to such a practice.
The idea is instilled in me: nudity belongs in a marriage between two people. Besides medical staff and other caregivers, naked bodies are only for the bedroom.
Moving from Minnesota to Texas and New Mexico, my values felt supported. In fact, Americans are hardly ever completely naked in front of a doctor. We put on a paper gown, and a sheet. Here in Prague there are no gowns. My blood pressure readings show how much this stresses me out.
When I encountered my first instance of public nudity — a topless canoer on a boating trip with my husband — I was in shock. We out-paddled her to stay ahead of the sight. Sunbathing in the buff at a major city park. Naked women in ads. Hardly any naked men, though, I don’t know why.
I’m not finished learning how to live the European lifestyle, but realize I can be both flexible, and true to my values. My Czech doctor works to make me more comfortable and I avoid situations I won’t enjoy. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll try skinny dipping on a camping trip.
Which ingrained belief system of yours is overturned by life in another culture?
Sherry Vacik is a writer, editor and technical proofreader who blogs about her expat adventures at Czech Off the Beaten Path.