I’m not sure of a more awkward situation than a naked guy striking up small talk while I’m scrubbing my privies. Yet this is the ritual I must endure every time I head out for my weekly bath at the local banya. (Ok, well maybe bi-weekly.)
When I say banya, picture a combination shower-and-sauna. Now instead of a shower, picture two taps and a bucket. Also there’s a lot of bare skin. (I hope you stopped picturing.)
Being the considerably less pigmented and infinitely more tattooed (I have two) of the bunch, I tend to be identified as not being from around here. This invariably engenders the usual line of questioning for a foreigner in Kyrgyzstan.
“Are you married?”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
Should I be scared that a naked man who I’m showering with is asking me if I have a girlfriend? I brush it off, along with the water that’s splashing off his naked body onto mine.
So to alleviate my bathing woes, I’ve developed a strategy. I start talking first.
Because here’s the truth: nobody likes small talk from strangers while they’re naked. It’s one of those universal human things.
The trick is to immediately upon arrival at the banya start asking a ton of questions—where are you from, what’s your name, do you like to eat meat, are you getting married—the usual. The other person quickly realizes, “Oh my gosh. It’s a talker. If I start grunting my answers and hide my shame towards the corner, maybe he’ll stop.” After a few of these exchanges, you can close your mouth and enjoy the remainder of your bi-weekly washing in peace.
And if the other guy doesn’t stop talking? Well, then you might just make a friend for life. There’s nothing more enduring than a friendship made in the nude.
Where I used to bathe when I lived with my host family out in the village