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Men, here’s a thought. Now that you’re okay with going to the spa as a couple (you are, right?) take it one step further and accompany your mom to the spa for Mother’s Day. Trust me, if you’re single you’ll be hitting a prime demographic of nice-girls-who-pamper-their-mothers and you’ll be one of the very few men there. Even better, everyone will love you because you’re spoiling your mom. And even if you’re not single, your mother will love you forever. Not that she doesn’t already, of course.
Unfortunately, I made the wrong decision and went off to my massage weighted down with something that felt like a wet cheesecloth diaper.
After 15 minutes, I worked up the courage to question the masseuse about it.
She laughed. Apparently most people never even put them on. Well, how was I supposed to know?
There’s nothing like a spa to make a person relax. There’s nothing like a spa to stress someone out, either. It’s an alien culture with its own language, rules and extremely scanty dress code. To help all those spa-going travelers out there, here are some guidelines.
Do I Strip?
Yes, although here in North America you can keep your underwear on – if you really must. Be aware, however, that therapists are trained to keep sensitive areas discreetly covered, and that this is no time for elastics to constrict blood flow.
It’s more difficult to be inhibited in Europe. At the Eugen-Keidel baths in Freiburg, Germany, I panicked when I found out that bathing suits are verboten in the co-ed saunas. Fortunately, the manager came to my aid and told me that though swimsuits are out, it’s OK to swaddle your body in towels.
No such luck at Baden Baden’s Friedrichsbad. In this historic spa where Mark Twain took to the waters, you’re not even allowed a suit in the pools. The prudish might want to try the town’s Caracalla Therme instead or go during single-sex hours.
When Do I Show Up?
Arrive early for your appointment. At least 15 minutes. And don’t rush off. Afterwards, linger and regroup in the spa’s relaxation area or lounge to enjoy the Zen calm and rehydrate with water or herbal tea.
Cut off Contact
Turn off cell phones. This is no time to be linked to the outside world. Or piss off your neighbouring spa-goers.
Do I Have to Tip?
Yup, pretty much. A tip of 15 percent is typical, unless you’re not satisfied. But no need to hop up naked from the massage table and root around in your purse or pockets before the masseuse leaves the room. Most spas have envelopes at the reception desk or provide space on credit card bills for tips. (Check with the desk to see if gratuities have already been included.)
What the Hell is This?
Know your comfort zone. Spas are always coming up with innovative treatments to keep clients’ interest, and this can be a minefield for the uninitiated. Take the trendy Lomi Lomi, a holistic Hawaiian massage incorporating chants and, occasionally, a big stick.
At one well-respected spa, I ran into a woman who’d just tried it. “Was it good?” I asked. Verging on hysteria, she leaned toward me, “The masseuse was half-naked and massaging me with his arm up to his armpit. It was like sex only not any fun!”
Put Your Hands in the Expert’s
If you don’t know what a treatment entails, ask the therapist for advice. And if you’re uncomfortable with something a therapist is doing, let him or her know right away – they’re not out to torture you. Really.
What do I do if I see Scarlet Johannson?
If you see a celebrity, sometimes it’s OK to speak to them. Spas are meccas for the rich and famous and it’s not impossible that you might see one – but be considerate – if they have their eyes closed or a magazine hiding their face, give them their space.
“I don’t think it’s rude to approach a celebrity,” said Norma Daniel, owner of HighFields Country Inn and Spa, 60 minutes northeast of Toronto. “I think they like to be recognized and acknowledged, but the approach must be kept short.” She should know, as her rustic hideaway has hosted such stars as Geena Davis, Christian Slater, Richard Dreyfuss, Ray Romano and Sigourney Weaver (who opted for an Echo II Oxygen Facial, by the way).
If it still sounds intimidating, relax. In no time you’ll feel like a pro. At an unusual spa I visited, the Toskana Therme in the German town of Bad Sulza, bathers float in saline water in a domed room called the Liquid Sound Temple while listening to music underwater.
This was new territory for me, and as I floated on my back with my ears submerged I kept drifting into my fellow worshippers like a log in a stream. Finally I got the hang of it, anchoring myself by hooking my heels over the bar that runs around the inner edge of the pool. My embarrassment disappeared and I was able to enjoy the novel sensation of swimming with sound. Now if I’d only known to bring my own towel.