The change to warmer weather has brought up something that I've known I was going to encounter in Europe, during my six month stint abroad while my husband studies law. Something that would be far different from what I've known to be normal in the United States.
The European attitude towards nudity is far more open and relaxed than that of Americans. Far less taboo, much more accepted. My husband, the law student, tells me that there is actually a law on the books here in Spain stating that nudity is not illegal anywhere, so long as it does not cause a disturbance. In the U.S., except for private property and nudist resorts, going around in your birthday suit is considered indecent exposure and will get you sent to prison. In America it seems as though any person without clothes on is somehow erotic or sexual. In Europe, they see the body as a body, made sexual by the context of the situation. In Utah, a woman breast feeding in a Burger King was front page news, yet in Spain, well...Iet me tell you about Spain.
Yesterday, as I was strolling lazily along the Mediterranean pier with my husband, stopping every few feet to browse the wares of local craft merchants, I encountered my first real nude person in Europe.
He was an older gentleman, in his mid-60s, and he seemed to be out for a Sunday morning stroll in the sunshine as well. He was so casual in his bare skin that I didn't actually notice him at first. I was examining a rack of handbags when my husband nudged me and whispered under his breath, "There is a man passing you right now and he is stark-naked."
"He's what?!" I said, probably a little to loudly and began turning my head back and forth frantically trying to understand what he could possibly be talking about. And then, I saw him. Well, I saw the back of him anyway. Head to toe without so much as a sandal on. His derriere was tattooed blue, giving the onlooker at first glance the appearance of a speed-o. As for his front, I have no idea if this was tattooed or not, but it swung freely between his legs and ended with a piercing. He should have joined the circus. Maybe he already had.
As I gawked at this au naturel Spaniard, he continued on his way looking as comfortable as if he had been in jeans and a t-shirt. I looked around to see the reaction of others on the wharf. Surely they must be as affected as I. But hardly anyone took notice as he sauntered along. Only one shopkeeper who waved and called out hello, as if they were old friends. I shook my head in disbelief.
Later that afternoon, as I sat on the edge of the beach sipping my soda, I saw a young family make their way through the sun bathers to find a spot of sand and claim it as their own. This done, the girl, 4 years old, began to shed her clothing as fast as she possibly could. Twenty or so seconds later and she was frolicking on the beach, playing in the sand and the waves, the happiest, freest child in the world.
This second instance of an unattired human didn't phase me in the slightest. She was young and innocent and who was I to say if she had to wear clothes. Especially on the beach.
The difference, it seems, was not in the comfortableness of the unclad, but in my own.