when going to a nude sauna with coworkers, what do I do about nipple piercings? … and other questions

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. When going to a nude sauna with coworkers, what do I do about nipple piercings?

I’m an American living in Europe, in a country where nude baths, nude saunas, etc. are normal. So normal, in fact, that my company has a yearly trip to one.

On principle, I have no problem with this, but I have nipple piercings, and I’m worried that they’ll be noticed/commented on. Normally I love getting compliments about them, but I don’t want my coworkers to know about this very private body modification. I try to maintain a gentle, low-key work persona, and I keep my work and personal life very separate. I’m worried that that would be negated by people knowing about this.

It’s entirely possible that no one will even notice them, or say anything, but the work culture is relatively conservative, and I don’t want to shock people. I just want to enjoy the sauna. Any advice for getting through this, or how to respond to comments if I do get them, would be highly appreciated.

If you don’t want people to know about the piercings at all, you’d need to either remove them ahead of time (which might be impractical if they close up as quickly as people say they do) or skip the nude sauna. But if you just don’t want to talk about them … well, personally I’d respond to any comments with “Hey, I’m American, and thus I need to maintain a fiction that no one can see me right now.” Adapt to fit your personality.

But I suspect you’ll find that in a culture where public nudity is no big deal, people will have seen nipple piercings before and won’t be as shocked as you fear they will be.

2. Interviewer wanted to tie their offer to my current salary

I had a phone interview today where I’m not sure if I did the right thing. Before the call, I had done some research on the company and the job, and had an idea of what they normally pay for the position they’re hiring for. Based on this, and where I’m at in my career, I had a general salary range I was prepared to negotiate whenever it was brought up in the interview process.

However, during the phone screen, the hiring manager asked what I’m making at my current position and I told her what I make. From there, she said “Okay, so then I’ll mark down that it would be your current salary + $3,000 to hire you on.” I was unprepared for this and didn’t dispute it, and the interview went on normally.

The problem is that I understand that I am underpaid for my positon, and it is one of the reasons why I am job hunting. Should I have lied to the hiring manager about my current salary to be more in line with what I feel is realistic? Or is there a good way to mention further down the in the interviewing process that I would need a bit more salary for this to be a viable option?

Don’t lie about your salary. Some companies, especially companies that base salary offers on your current salary, will do a salary verification later in the process, and if it comes out that you lied, they’ll pull your offer.

Ideally you would you said in the moment, “Actually, being underpaid at my current position is one of the main reasons I’m looking for a new role, and I’m seeking a salary in the range of $X-Y, which seems to be more in line with the market rate.” (Of course, to do that, you need to do enough research beforehand that you can get those numbers right.)

It’s not too late now to email the hiring manager and say, “You brought up salary and I should have noted in the moment that I’m seeking a salary in the range of $X-Y. My current salary is below-market, and it’s one of the reasons I’m looking to move on, so I wouldn’t want to base a new salary on it.”

Also, this practice sucks and is increasingly on the way out.

3. I’m asked to lead workshops that feel like lip service

I work for a decent company that runs a survey twice a year to take the pulse of the workforce. HR will then group like comments and the large problems sift to the top. More than once, I have been asked to facilitate one of these workshops to drill down and get more meaningful data — affinity diagrams, SWOT analysis, and the like. All of this seems like the right move, and during the workshops people are energized and hopeful. It always goes well.

Then the next survey comes up and the same issues float to the surface, which is not that surprising. More training, better communication, etc. Again I am asked to help, mostly because I work in a different department and I am perceived as “neutral” and “safe.”

Here’s the rub. When I look at the notes and recommendations from the last workshop I realize that nobody took the baton and did anything with the root cause. No wonder it’s still an issue! It is only my role to be a non-biased facilitator to gather data and help the group develop a few focus areas where gaps are. The group recommends something to the department lead, and I go back to my actual job where I have zero visibility on this other business function.

Even though the group is comprised of different folks each time, I still feel like it will not take long before these workshops are perceived as lip service and that the company doesn’t really care. I do not want to be the poster child for a corporate facade. I also want my efforts to be valuable and meaningful.

I would like to politely decline to help going forward and explain that I have noticed that there is no follow-up and maybe they should just work on the recommendations from the last workshop. Should I simply decline? I could do this with zero repercussions. Should I decline with the “no follow-up” reason stated above? Recognize that even if nothing is happening, it’s still team building and people feel like they are being heard? Basically just keep doing it and hope for the best? Try to reach the group that has the ability to make change and strongly recommend they act on these recommendations… again? On one hand, I care about the company and I want what is best for all. On the other hand, it’s not my circus and they are not my monkeys!

I definitely wouldn’t decide it’s still useful team-building and people feel like they’re being heard — because people have probably already figured out that they’re not being heard, and that’s the opposite of team-building. And you risk your own credibility getting tied up in that if you continue to facilitate the sessions.

I think your best bet is to say, “I’m concerned that the sessions are starting to be seen as less credible and as only lip service, with no real change resulting from them. Given that, I’m going to pass this year — but my suggestion if you want them to be effective is to figure out what to do with the recommendations that come out of them. I think people will be much more invested, and we risk less demoralization, if we show people we’re really acting on those.”

However, if you’d be saying this to someone who reacts poorly to dissent and who has influence over your work, there’s no incentive for you to take that risk. In that case, since you say you can decline with no explanation and no repercussions, that might be your better option.

4. Company wants me to take a course that I’d need to reimburse them for if I leave

I’m a project manager at a smallish company. Without excessive detail, it’s a very dysfunctional workplace and I’m planning my exit for my own sanity. However, my manager really really likes me, and wants to send me on a very expensive training course … a condition of which is that I have to repay the company for the cost of the course if I leave within 12 months of completing it. How do I refuse without making it clear that I’m not planning to hang around? I definitely cannot confide in my manager that I’m looking elsewhere because she is very dug-in, and will feel personally betrayed by my departure (I’ve seen it happen). How do I navigate this??

It’s not uncommon for companies to require a repaying agreement when they do tuition reimbursement — but that’s usually education that the employee herself is pursuing and the company is paying as a benefit. It’s not typical or reasonable to do this for job-related training that your manager is proposing on her own.

Say this: “I’d be glad to take this course, but I’m not comfortable signing an agreement to pay back the costs if I leave within a year. I don’t have any current plans to leave, but I can’t predict what life might throw at me. I could end up needing to leave for reasons I can’t anticipate now — health, family, who knows — and I don’t want to be tied into owing money if that happens. If that means you’d rather not send me to the course, I completely understand.”

5. Explaining how you spent a year of unemployment … when you didn’t do much

My boyfriend has been laid off a year ago and he hasn’t found a job since. Aside from job searching and feeling sorry for himself, he didn’t really do much. Being laid off was a huge blow, and when he started to search for a job he didn’t manage to get interviews, so he got quite depressed. Now he’s ready to actively job search again. I’ve bought your book (I finally got a hold of his resume, and it needs work!), but what does he say when interviewers ask about the past year ? He hasn’t followed any training or did volunteering or anything like it to be able to say that he still kept busy. He spent time with friends and family, played games, or was too down to do anything.

One option: “I was lucky enough to have the ability to take some time off to attend to some family issues. But now I’m ready to jump back into work, and I’m using this opportunity to be very selective about my next role.”

Or, if he’s had a fairly high-pressure career history where he could credibly say this, here’s another option: “I used the opportunity to take some time off! I’d been working in high-pressure roles for a while, and I welcomed the opportunity to take a break and spend time with my family. But now I’m ready to jump back into work.” (This works if he was, saying, working on political campaigns or in another industry with notoriously high pressure and long hours. It doesn’t work if he was a job with more typical pressures.)

{ 281 comments… read them below }

    1. TZ*

      That’s what I was going to suggest. Clear plugs will keep them from closing without calling attention and are much less likely to be commented on (in my experience with other types of piercings at any rate).

    2. Anonymous Ampersand*

      Seconded. Still visible but much less obvious and it’s also like a signal that you don’t want them commented on, IMO.

    3. Anonym*

      Also, please ensure whatever you have in is not metal!!! I am panicking about the burning just thinking about it.

      1. V*

        Any metal in a piercing does not get wildly hot, or at least not any hotter than your skin. Source: have many piercings, enjoy saunas, have not had any bits burn.

      2. Autumnheart*

        If a sauna isn’t hot enough to burn the rest of you, it’s not going to be hot enough to make your piercings burn you.

        1. Amanda*

          I’m afraid that’s not true. I used to have a septum ring and access to a sauna (sadly, I have neither now. I miss the sauna more than the nose ring) and it would definitely heat up in the sauna. I would notice a foul smell and I eventually figured out that the smell was the steel ring burning my nose flesh. Occasionally splashing it with water was enough to solve the problem but it definitely held heat.

    4. Clorinda*

      DEFINITELY don’t wear metal jewelry of any kind in a sauna. That’s just uncomfortable for you. Clear silicon, should be fine but do be cautious of the melting point of any plastic.
      Sauna culture includes not noticing, commenting on, or criticizing the bodies of others, and that includes piercings, tattoos, scars, birthmarks, flab, discolorations, and everything else. It’s the original don’t ask, don’t tell situation.

      1. SteamedBuns*

        Came to say the same thing, all the saunas I’ve been in, I’ve not once had someone comment on my body or tattoos. I feel like it is an unspoken rule about saunas no to comment on others’ bodies, and those that do are generally shut down pretty quickly.

        1. Anon E. Mouse*

          I think the one exception is in traditionally Korean saunas where tattoos can sometimes be an issue. I’m thinking specifically of Margaret Cho’s experience with one where other customers complained

          1. Loud Noises*

            Interesting, I was in a traditional Korean sauna last month with my very noticeable and potentially off-putting tattoo, and as far as I could tell no one even looked twice, if at all.

        2. Chinookwind*

          I have had some interesting conversations in Japan onsens about body hair and skin colour with both coworkers and complete strangers. I found that, once I got past being nude around others, I started treating these conversations that same as those about hair styles and clothes – casual and surface level.

          As for metal in saunas, I wear earrings and I never remember them feeling too hot in an onsen or sauna. I think the fact that the are being heated at the same rate as the rest of your body probably helps.

        1. Clorinda*

          Nothing happens in the sauna. I’m talking about the Finnish variety, since OP says Europe. It’s kind of a taboo space. Nobody tells you what to do exactly, but anything inappropriate gets shut down hard and fast.
          I’ve had uncomfortably hot moments after forgetting to take off a necklace or earrings, but not rings, strangely.

  1. Cambridge Comma*

    I love OP1’s combination of a conservative work environment and a nude sauna, amd suspect from this description that I may have lived in that country.
    I wouldn’t blame it on being American if you don’t want to start a round of American (well, USA) bashing (unless your colleagues are all amazing people that don’t do this, but I notice there’s always one and my colleagues from the US confirm).
    It’s perfectly acceptable to close your eyes and ask for peace and quiet in the sauna so maybe that’s a better route.
    If people ask questions you could always say ‘oh, there isn’t really an interesting story there.’

    1. RedinSC*

      I honestly just could not go to a naked sauna with my coworkers. I’d have to call in sick that day.

      But good for the OP for being up for this. And I do hope the coworkers just ignore any piercings.

      1. Gaia*

        This right here. There aren’t enough nopes in the world. My feet would physically not carry me into a nude sauna with coworkers.

      2. Wendy Darling*

        Yeah I think I’d call in dead before I got naked with coworkers.

        No shade on anyone who doesn’t feel that way but I would die of shame. I am working on being more positive about my body but I dunno if I will ever achieve “can be nude with coworkers without life-threatening levels of blushing” positive.

      3. Ms Cappuccino*

        I am not American and I couldn’t do that neither. I wouldn’t even do it with friends.
        I wonder which European country it is. I live in the UK and come from France but never heard of naked sauna.

            1. Julia*

              What? I’m German and have never heard of anyone going to the sauna with people from work. (Well, a friend from high school went to their sauna with an older guy from a company she was apprenticing for, but that’s its own set of weird.)
              Even in Japan, where people bathe naked (but hide under towels when changing for the pool, go figure), going with co-workers seems to become increasingly rare these days. I’ve gone with friends, though.

              1. JaneB*

                Finland – on a conference, just met all these senior academics, now its nude sauna time! I say on the lawn and had beer with the men who were waiting their turn (still clad!) whilst the women sauna’d. Too British for that!!

                1. JaneB*

                  Stayed, not say.

                  They also had a multi seat toilet (no dividers) and were honestly a bit confused that the non Finns and non Estonians used it one at a time so the queue was long.

                2. RVA Cat*

                  I’m picturing the multiseat outhouse from HBO’s Rome and, nope, even without the Bad Things that happened there.

                3. Blackcat*

                  “Too British for that!!”

                  I LOL-ed at this. A friend had a pretty wild destination wedding that involved a fair amount of nudity. One of the groom’s friends was SO BRITISH and had the most British response to it all. I can’t even find the words to describe it.

                4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  I’ve only ever seen multi-seat toilets (outhouse-style) at summer camps when I was a kid. Would probably be unable to use one one now! One time at camp, I walked into one and found a much older (late 40s or 50s?) counselor sitting there. I didn’t know what to do, and turned to leave, but the counselor said to me, “Oh don’t worry. Nothing human is alien to me.” I was maybe 10 or 11. Forty years later, I think that was a pretty cool thing to say while taking a dump, go Camp Counselor!

              2. Daisy*

                I’ve been to the onsen with colleagues (not an official work thing though, just ones I was friendly with).

                1. Minocho*

                  Yeah, when I was working as an assistant English teacher at a public Japanese junior high school, they did the onsen thing on a trip.

                  I was having a hard time wrapping my head around it in the first place, then Aunt Flo decided to visit and I had no idea about what the protocol was…so I spent bath time alone in my own hotel room that trip.

              3. Myrin*

                I agree, but I also think people are talking past each other a little – KCL technically replied to Ms Cappuccino, who was wondering about “naked sauna”, to which the appropriate answer is indeed “Germany is a country like that”, i. e. one where you go to a sauna naked. (In fact, I’m surprised it’s not like that everywhere apparently? Sure, you can wear a towel, but other than that, saunas are naked places.)
                Germany is decidedly not a country where you go with your colleagues, though, which is what you and some other comments are talking about.

                1. Maesel*

                  That was not my experience of it. I don’t know if that’s changed, is a regional thing, or is something academics did but no one else.

                  I lived there over a year and did several nude beach or sauna trips w work colleagues.

                  So it might not be common anymore, but it’s not unheard of.

                2. Myrin*

                  @Maesel, that sounds like it’s almost certainly regional. You say you were in the north, which both literally and figuratively is closer to the Scandinavian countries than other parts – I can definitely say that I’ve literally never heard of any kind of workplace going saunaing (?) together; it’s so foreign, I can’t even imagine anyone suggesting it.
                  (I’d also say firmly that Germany as a country doesn’t have any kind of “sauna culture” to speak of. It’s pretty common and there are rules and expectations around it almost everyone is probably familiar with to some degree, but the only country I know of where saunas really have a certain place in the general culture is Finland.)

              4. Maesel*

                I was in a conservative doctoral program as an exchange student in Germany in the late 1990s. We went to nude beaches and saunas as a group all the time.

                They younger profs all went with us. Thankfully, the 70 year old prof who resembled Helmut Kohl did not tag along.

                1. Tallulah in the Sky*

                  If the younger people displayed as much disdain as in your post, I can understand why they wouldn’t subject themselves to that.

                  Those are places for everyone, where no one should be judged for their appearance.

                2. Sunflower*

                  “Thankfully”? Heaven forbid you’d be subjected to looking at someone whose only crime was reaching the age of 70.

                3. Chinookwind*

                  I am surprised at that response. I happily onsened with women of all ages and you quickly get over the “everyone is naked” and “eww…wrinkles” moment very fast if you intend to enjoy yourself. Plus, lots of eye contact in the beginning.

            2. Anon_for_this*

              I’m from Germany. There’s this general rule: swimming – you wear swimwear (unless being e.g. at a special nude beach or whatever). Sauna – naked. Now, I personally have been to sex parties and other stuff where people were not only naked but in action, and I don’t have many problem with my body.
              Still, when I visited a sauna for the first time, it was strange. It was pretty crowded, nobody spoke and nobody looked at each other. Lots of people carefully minding not to accidently touch the next person. For which I was pretty thankful because I was there to sauna and not to mate. Still, a strange situation, and I don’t think it is for me.
              On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to work out with my coworkers, I wouldn’t want to go swimming with them, and I certainly wouldn’t want to go to a sauna with them. And I’m in a field where you regularly see your bosses in their underwear (everyone quickly changing in a locker room, most of the time genders separated but not always) and while it sometimes lead me to strange thoughts (“maybe I shouldn’t wear this colour as underwear?” in fact nobody cares anyway), it’s pretty okay. The sauna/swimming/Spa day stuff is not so much about the various level of clothes or not clothes, but about some peace and quiet time for me, and I can’t have that with work in the same pool.

              1. Maesel*

                When I was out at the nude beach or sauna with colleagues in northern Germany, there was this odd intimacy but also clear aversion of direct eye contact.

                WRT swimming, I was absolutely shocked the number of times I saw nude swimming in the Ostsee in places other than nude beaches. It’s cold!

                Of course, this was 20 years ago, so things do change. Maybe that doesn’t happen as often. I wonder if the advent of cameras in phones and the internet makes that sort of thing less desirable and riskier.

                I once saw people naked diving around some of the WWII wrecks. I’d be concerned about accidentally injuring deleicate flesh.

                1. Anon_for_this*

                  There seems to be some north-south difference in Germany re: nude swimming. It seems to be not that unusual in the north. Also, aside of official swimming pools and the like, I can’t imagine anyone in Germany trying to stop a nude or, if female, topless swimmer. It’s just not strange enough to swim like that. Nude swimmers are assumed to be swimming and, while they might get strange looks at places not known/thought for it, they probably won’t get spoken to (a bit like you’d risk some pointed looks for sunbathing topless here but probably not more).
                  Though I have to admit, I’m from the south of Germany and my knowlegde about swimming culture in the north of it is somewhat spotty. Maybe I need to check it ;)

            3. GermanCoffeeGirl*

              Yeah, no. Germans are naked in saunas, but it’s not a thing to go with your friends (not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s not common in most of Germany). Going to the sauna as an official work outing would be a giant world of NO and completely unacceptable.

              1. AnotherGerman*

                Agree!! Totally inappropriate in Germany.

                I have also been to German saunas where people do wear clothes, but I would still find it awkward to be sweating in a bathing suit next to my colleagues.

                It should be totally fine for OP to not go, or if they are worried about missing out on networking opportunities to only go to the lounge/rest area where people wear towels/robes. As far as I know, it is considered extremely rude to talk in the actual sauna so people should not be networking in there!

              2. Yellow Bird*

                I’m struggling to think of a country where a company-wide sauna outing would be acceptable, except perhaps Finland or Iceland? … Yeah I’ve got nothing. I assume it’s a peculiarity of that particular work place. I’m very curious though.

                1. Birch*

                  It’s almost definitely Finland, and if it is, it’s also definitely a thing that happens. But Finns totally understand that foreigners are often not comfortable in sauna and don’t mind at all if people abstain. Also, Finns are not likely to comment on your body while in sauna–that would be extremely rude. More likely that you’d chat about light work or personal things–where you’re planning to holiday, how the weather has been for Midsummer. Or you might not talk at all. If you’re taking sauna with other foreigners, then definitely either don’t go, prepare some answers if there are comments about your body, or use one of the other suggestions to cover piercings. But it’s nearly certain that Finns would not comment on your body in sauna. I can’t speak for other countries with sauna, though.

                2. C-Hawk*

                  Yeah, I’m in agreement that this is almost certainly Finland. I lived at an artist colony for a month in rural Finland, and we saunaed pretty much every night. For the first few days it was definitely strange; ten artists from around the world (we’d never met before moving there for the month), and night one the owner of the colony tells us we’re going to the sauna (on site). All of the Europeans and Australians immediately got naked and couldn’t understand why I and the other Americans (and the one Singaporean) were wearing swimsuits. It took the us a few nights, but by the end of the week, it just became a natural thing to sauna naked collegues every night.

                  I should also mention (and alluded to this earlier down thread) that this was a very sexually forward group (artists, after all…), and yet not once did the sauna become at all sexual. There were multiple people at this colony openly having sex with each other, and yet when it came time to sauna, it was not at all a thing.

                3. RabbitRabbit*

                  I’d heard a joke about how you tell an extroverted Finn – he looks at YOUR shoes when he’s talking to you – so I suspect if this is even vaguely close to correct, the piercings will not be commented on.

          1. Ender*

            I’m guessing it’s a Scandinavian country. I’ve lived in Germany and it may be region dependent but I have never heard of a sauna culture there.

        1. Eulerian*

          Austria was my first thought – I understand they have a relaxed attitude towards nudity. Unless someone wants to correct me on that!

        2. batman*

          The Scandinavian countries are really into this. Definitely Sweden and Norway and probably Denmark. Not sure if Finland is Scandinavian, but they’re also really into this.

      4. Traffic_Spiral*

        I’m very comfortable with my body, personally, but I just feel that my coworkers don’t need to know what my junk looks like.

      5. Nita*

        Yeah, me neither. It’s not a cultural thing, it’s a me thing. I have some minor things wrong with my body that I don’t really care to show to coworkers or friends. But if it’s not the piercings and OP feels generally uncomfortable – FWIW, I’ve gone to lots of saunas and banyas in a bikini, and no one ever minded. Maybe this is acceptable at the sauna OP will go to, also. The ones I’ve been to (mostly in the US) were actually split 50-50 between naked people, and those who had swim trunks/bathing suits on.

      6. ket*

        The LW here could just wear a swimsuit. Everyone in Sauna-land knows that most people from other nations were brought up with a different approach to nudity. The coworkers will almost certainly ignore piercings; they’re not that uncommon, and in Sauna-land people know from years of socialization to ignore tattoos and piercings and scars and saggy bits.

        For a culture like Sauna-land to survive, really different cultural norms have been established for centuries. Any culture with communal baths will have a different approach toward the human body than the US. Remember, these folks have been seeing all types of people naked since childhood. By contrast, the only times we in the US see people naked (when we’re not having sex with them or when we’re not showering in conjunction with a sport) is in porn. For instance, who in the US has seen old people naked, ever, except health professionals and people married to old people? So in the US, the frame of reference for naked people is “sexy,” “gym,” or “skin cancer check.” In Sauna-land, the frame of reference for naked people is “my aunt,” “the neighbor lady who came over for dinner,” “my dad’s colleague.”

        I grew up with gender-segregated sauna after puberty and was mildly scandalized by the mixed-gender sauna my older cousins had when we visited Sauna-land one year, but even among that group of late teens/early twenties folks, it was a time for beer, sausages, and swimming rather than other shenanigans. The sauna is dark. “You should act in sauna like you should act in church” is a version of a saying I heard from some relatives.

        1. DataQueen*

          Wearing a swimsuit could be a solution in some places, but I grew up as an American teenager in Austria, and you could not wear a swimsuit in the sauna. It was seen as unhygenic i believe was the reason. I remember being confused and a little skeeved that grown men were telling me that i must be naked, but it’s truly just the culture. Nothing sexual about it at all. But yeah, some cultures might not let you wear a swimsuit.

          1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

            One reason why it’s not a good idea is the chlorine in swimming pool water. If you go swimming and then go to sauna in the same wet swimsuit, the chlorine residue in the swimsuit will heat up and vaporize. It could be dangerous for people with lung/breathing issues like asthma.

          2. Just Employed Here*

            Yeah, you bring in more bacteria on your swimwear than on your (newly showered) body, and the bacteria looove the mild heat. Also, in a swimming pool setting, your swimwear probably has traces of chlorine on it, which isn’t healthy to breath in once becomes steam.

            In Finland, I’ve pretty much only ever encountered gender segregated public saunas, and women and men would go separately if you go to the sauna with colleagues. With friends, you all go together, and no one really looks at you. Funnily enough, you will happily undress and dress in the same room with all your friends when it’s related to the sauna, but if you change clothes for some other reason, you do it in private and not among your friends.

            In northern Germany, the sauna at the university sports club was mixed, so you’d sit there naked with total strangers. The Germans also seemed to count sauna as a form of exercise (I guess because you sweat?), which is completely foreign to a Finnish mind.

            Oh, and those multiuser outhouses… Yeah, those only exist at scout cottages and the like, and are gender segregated, as far as I can remember. Still better than digginc your own latrine in the ground and building the seat out of birch branches! Ask me how I know.

      7. Anonymosity*

        Eh, I might try it. If the culture is that it’s no big deal, I’d feel more comfortable doing it than say, if an American company decided to try it just for the hell of it. I’d be going into it knowing that my European colleagues are used to it and don’t care much about bodies, etc.

      8. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        Yeah, I can’t even go to the gym in my work building because I get really awkward seeing my coworkers in their underwear. I have no problem going to a naked sauna with friends, but coworkers? Hard pass on that.

      1. Kay*

        Why? Its fairly common in some parts of the world to have both single sex and mixed baths. Depends on where you are and what bath house.

      2. Cambridge Comma*

        It’s fine if you wouldn’t like a mixed sauna for yourself, but in many countries it’s quite normal.

      3. Knitting Cat Lady*

        They are in Germany.

        It’s no big deal.

        We even have nudity zones in public parks and along rivers in our cities. With no privacy screens.

      4. Nonnie*

        Mixed saunas are a no big deal in several places, like in finno-ugric cultures. It has nothing to do with sex, its about relaxation and purity (traditionally spiritual purity too). It would be nice if you would be a little bit more open minded about cultures different from your own.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That goes both ways though, and I don’t want this to turn into criticizing American readers for not being open minded enough about other cultures. It’s fine for people to acknowledge that here in the U.S., being naked with one’s coworkers would be a huge no, and particularly in mixed-sex company, and even to be surprised that that norm isn’t universal.

          1. Julia*

            I think the issue is that some of the comments are veering into, “those quaint Europeans with their odd views on nudity and loose sexual morals” territory a little.
            Like being naked around people? Cool.
            Don’t like being naked around people? Cool.
            Tell us that you find either one weird or gross? Not cool.

            1. Maze*

              I’m from Europe and you’d never hear me refer to Europeans this way, mostly because I am aware of huge cultural diversity on the continent. In most European countries, it’s not normal to be naked at a sauna and going to a spa center or something as a work event is big no no, even if there’s no nudity involved.

            2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

              Combining nude sauna culture with loose sexual morals is actually a bit insulting… (I don’t mean that you specifically are insulting because it was a description of what some other people think.) For most people in nude sauna countries, it’s not sexual. Not even between spouses, in many cases – it’s simply too hot for that kind of stuff! Also there are people with very strict sexual morals in these countries, but I’ve never come across anyone ever who wouldn’t have approved of at least single sex nude saunas, unless they come originally from a different culture. Instead, going to sauna together is a common activity in longer religious gatherings (like weekend events) too.

              So, if you don’t want to come to a naked sauna session, that’s OK. If you think it’s really weird someone would do that, I understand, and I’m pretty sure there are things in your culture that I would find just as weird, because that’s how cultures are. But if you insinuate that I or people in my country in general have loose sexual morals, that’s definitely not OK!

            3. Ms Cappuccino*

              This. And also, why Europeans are cited like if Europe was a country and not a continent with many different cultures and social norms ? There is little in common between Spain and Finland, or between Italy and Danemark. Nude sauna might be okay in one country and not in another.

          2. Maze*

            It’s also very, very weird in most European countries, and in other cultures where naked saunas are normal, genders are never mixed. So it’s not that Americans are super uptight at all.

            1. Scarlet*

              Exactly. I’m also European and mixed-gender naked saunas are only widespread in a minority of countries. I live in a Central European country that has a big sauna culture, but they’re generally gender-separated. So it’s really not just about Europe vs USA (also, there are a lot of very diverse cultures in Europe, with very different view on nudity).

          3. Lala*

            But isn’t that derailing? You often ask European readers to not comment on their work norms (healthcare, vacation time.) And claim it’s because it adds nothing. Why should Americans be allowed to comment on theirs in a way that doesn’t address the question?
            This comment section is generally pretty hostile to non-Americans.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              No, that’s a real misstatement; Europeans commenting on their work norms has always been fine here. What I’ve asked people to stop in the past is turning every discussion of health care/parental leave/vacation time into how backwards they think Americans are, because it’s exhausting to hear it every time and not useful. If we suddenly develop an issue with American readers constantly complaining about European nudity norms (beyond responses to a single question from an American adjusting to those norms), I’ll address that too.

              1. Typhon Worker Bee*

                Personally, it was the “even to be surprised that that norm isn’t universal” part of your previous comment that seemed like a double standard, because from my POV that’s where a lot of the “wait, you don’t have paid parental leave?” comments are also coming from

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Ah, that makes sense. And if we had lots of public-nudity-related posts here and had to wade through comments expressing shock every time, I’d step in. But we’ve had maybe two or three public-nudity-related posts in 11 years (versus the hundreds every year about health care, etc.), so to me that’s different.

              2. Duchess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                “What I’ve asked people to stop in the past is turning every discussion of health care/parental leave/vacation time into how backwards they think Americans are”

                And I personally can’t stress enough how much I appreciate that.

        2. Maze*

          I’m actually quite open to different cultures, thank you. I’ve lived abroad, at a place where naked saunas are normal but they’re never mixed gender. I liked going to the sauna and sleeping there but I don’t think I could have done it if there were men. I wasn’t working back then so I don’t have first hand experience with saunas with coworkers. At my current job I wouldn’t have a problem hanging out naked with my female coworkers (even the 2 lesbians) but I could never imagine doing it with male coworkers. It just doesn’t feel right.

        3. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

          Not American and wouldn’t do it, ever. No judgement on people who do, but I wish that lack of judgement were reciprocated.

          1. Erin*

            +1 each to their own. I don’t care if others are comfortable naked around their co-workers. It would be so awkward and uncomfortable. It was strange seeing a coworker in very casual yard work clothes instead of a polished suit one day.

          2. Jennifer Juniper*

            I have no problem with nudity in clothing-optional situations.

            But….

            Being naked with people I work with? Ew. Ew. Ew. No.

          3. Just Employed Here*

            Well… There’s a bit of “when in Rome” for the OP here, really.

            I’m not saying they would be ostracized if they didn’t go to this company event, but I’m glad their attitude is that they want to go and simply want to solve this issue with the piercings.

            Foreign people living in sauna obsessed cultures can refrain from going, but it’s even better if they adapt to the culture of the company and just go along with it.

      5. Nita*

        Yeah, me too! A bunch of my friends were doing a naked sauna thing once, and I think most of them just wanted to get warm and clean (long camping trip in very cold weather), but I’m also positive at least one of the guys thought this was a great excuse to check out the girls he otherwise wouldn’t see naked. Nope. I just went in with my bathing suit on, still warmed up nicely, and didn’t have to worry afterwards that he’s carrying around a mental image of me naked.

    2. babblemouth*

      I live in a Nordic country, and while it’s less in the sauna culture than others, it would be perfectly acceptable for someone to say something like “this is not something I’m comfortable with, but you lot have fun!” OP seems fine with going to the sauna, but for anyone else in a similar situation on day, don’t feel like you have to if you’re too uncomfortable! The whole point of the sauna is to make everyone comfortable, and colleagues would be mortified to find out it made someone feel bad.

    3. anon today and tomorrow*

      I wouldn’t blame it on being American if you don’t want to start a round of American (well, USA) bashing (unless your colleagues are all amazing people that don’t do this, but I notice there’s always one and my colleagues from the US confirm).

      Yes, I agree. I’ve always worked for companies that have European HQs and I find sometimes being surprised by cultural differences causing a lot of American bashing. A lot of my coworkers and I hate now dread interacting with some European offices – London, in particular – because every single call or meeting has one snipe about how much they dislike us or think we’re uncivilized. It’s exhausting.

      I find this is pretty frequent traveling abroad, too. If I say I’m from the US, there’s always one person who’ll start in on the American/US bashing before I’ve done anything more than say my name and where I’m from (generally, I find they heavily criticize social and political aspects about Americans/the US that they and their country are guilt of as well).

      I’d generally just say it’s not something you’re comfortable with, and leave nationality out of it. It makes it a personal decision rather than a judgment / aspect of your own culture.

      1. Emily K*

        Traveling as an American was much easier in that respect when Obama was President.

        I actually watched his 2009 inauguration via satellite feed on a cruise ship in international waters in a lounge room full of people from all different (mostly English speaking) countries, and it was really incredible the feeling of belonging and being welcomed to the international community. More than a few people were crying, many of the Europeans were wearing USA flag gear. One of the Brits told me that W’s presidency and especially his reelection had really confounded a lot of Brits who couldn’t understand why he was elected TWICE, why the American people had allowed/were allowing him and his administration’s policies, but that electing Obama was a relief because it reassured them we still shared most of the same values. They felt like it was a sign America was ready to be part of the international community and work for a common good again instead of the cowboy America-first thing W had been doing.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          Actually American bashing has been a thing for a very long time and isn’t unique/better/worse because of any one administration. But as this is going to head down to a derail… I’ll bring this comment back to the topic at hand.

          To the OP, one thing I’ve found as an American traveling or as an American interacting with travelers at home, the traveler generally gets a pass on certain cultural practices. If you bow out of the naked sauna or choose to lightly cover up (not sure if this is allowable due to sauna rules) most natives will be understanding.

          I would also assume that even in a conservative yet naked culture, you wouldn’t be the first one with an unorthodox piercing, tattoo, or other body modification. One would assume that others comfortable and used to an environment where there is a high likelihood of seeing private bits of those they work with, there is an understanding that things seen in the sauna stay in the sauna.

        2. anon today and tomorrow*

          I’ve found it just as bad when we have Democratic presidents. My London location coworkers like to call us uncivilized for the way we use silverware regardless of who is president at the moment.

          But not to derail too much, I agree with randomusername that OP is likely to get a pass as a foreigner on certain customs as long as they don’t judge those customs. Again, I think OP shouldn’t bring up nationality as their reason for not partaking since it’s unneeded (and generalizing because not every American would be uncomfortable with a shared sauna), but just state it as a personal preference.

    4. Sauna Native*

      As an Estonian I wanted to chime in saying that this combo of a conservative work place and a sauna event sound pretty normal for Estonia or Finland.

      I wanted to assure the LW that noone brought up in this kind of sauna culture would comment on anything they saw there (from piercings to body parts). If uncomfortable, you could (a) use a bathing suit, (b) use a towel or even (c) forego going to the actual sauna and instead hang out with the group fully clothed around the lounge area. All these variations are perfectly acceptable even for natives so as a foreigner you’re sure to get a pass.

      So I guess it’s more about whether you want your coworkers to know about you piercings vs them commenting on the piercings.

  2. Ella*

    For #1, if you have time before the trip it might be worth seeing if you could get a professional to swap out your jewelry for something less noticeable (A clear or flesh colored piercing retainer, for instance.) I’m not sure what’s possible with nipple piercings specifically, but I know those exist for other piercings.

    1. purlgurly*

      It is possible to get a clear plastic barbell that really isn’t noticeable. I had to trade out my metal jewelry before a minor surgery (under general). The piercing place was able to make an appropriately-sized clear barbell for me.

    2. Jadelyn*

      Clear retainers are great. I usually prefer pink/nude-ish colored retainers to clear, because I feel like the clear catches the light in a way the pink doesn’t, but either one is definitely more subtle than metal. A nipple piercing is probably 16g or 14g I would guess, which means you should have plenty of options for retainer barbells. I’d check on BodyArtForms or if you’ve got a piercer nearby you like, stop in and see what they have or can get for you.

  3. C-Hawk*

    @Op 1: I’m American and did an artist residency in a country that loves nude saunas (we had one on site and so did every home in the area). Very, very quickly, I and the other Americans got over any awkwardness about the nudity, and our European living companions made it quite clear that a big part of being comfortable about the nudity was not commenting on each other’s bodies. In fact, there was one artist who we kind of collectively banned from our group sauna because he wouldn’t respect this rule (dude was a creep…). I get that you’re worried about the more conservative work culture (pretty much the exact opposite of a global artist colony), but my experience with this tells me that the standard of not commenting on each other’s bodies will be even more followed in your case.

    1. Jill*

      Yeah, as an American who’s lived in a couple of these countries and traveled in most of the rest, that was exactly
      what I was coming here to say.

    2. WS*

      I’m Australian (so we hang out at the beach and the pool in minimal clothing but nudity is right out) and went to a hot spring with Japanese coworkers. It was gender separated, but I was by far the fattest person there, so I was very concerned (and Japanese culture is not kind about fat). I went anyway because I really wanted to go and nobody said a word about anyone’s body, not even the people who commented on my food regularly.

      1. Jaybeetee*

        I went ONCE to a Korean bathhouse while living over there (gender-segregated). I am a fairly large redhead (though I was thinner back then, just on the cusp of plus-size). I didn’t exactly blend in. I was absolutely the only white person there, was larger/fatter than anyone else. I think I stuck out 30 minutes, did each bath for a couple minutes, then skedaddled, decided I’d tried the cultural thing, and never did it again. I do wish they were a bit more open about swimsuits at those places, but at least for Koreans, wearing a swimsuit to the bathhouse is just Not a Thing, and would have actually been considered rather unclean.

        No one commented on my body at all though a couple people tried to make small-talk about where I was from and tried to practice their English with me. When I was back to school on Monday, I heard that a student spotted me there. I was mortified, but I guess she saw about on par with seeing your teacher at the store.

      2. LT*

        I’m an Asian American and definitely retain the American discomfort with public nudity but I love to visit my grandparents in Japan. On my most recent trip, we went to a hot spring village and as anxious as I may have been leading up to the trip, it went okay. The collective mentality is that people keep to themselves. They focus on relaxing over ogling others, and most people aren’t sprawled out, commanding attention.
        I can see how it would be different in OP’s case, though, since you’ll be with people you work with. At least I went with family (which can mean unwanted criticisms from them but in this case they were focused on relaxation, too)

    3. FD*

      I would imagine it being a bit like gym locker rooms–yes, you’re naked but everyone sort of pretends to be unaware of that.

    4. Emily K*

      I have an Irish Catholic friend from Northern Ireland who did a work-study year in Finland after she finished school. She would often remark on how it surprised even her how rapidly she went from mortified to blase about the coed nude saunas. She comes from a very conservative religious background in her family but said by the second or third time she was over it and had completely disassociated it from sexuality, and she’d initially thought it was going to take her longer to acclimate.

  4. Loose Seal*

    #1 — I’m assuming that you’ve had the piercings long enough so that they are fully healed. If not, you should get advice from a certified piercer as to whether you should even be in the sauna. (I don’t know if this is the type of sauna where you steam for a while, then dunk in a pool or just the steam. You can’t swim with a new piercing for a while, as I’m sure you know, so that would be my primary concern if the piercing is new.)

    If you’ve had the piercing for a while and it’s healed and isn’t reacting to your jewelry (not red, sore, etc.) then you could try putting in glass retainers which look like little barbells that will lay flat against your skin. I think you can even get a matte finish so that it’s more likely to escape notice.

    I want to say I understand where you are coming from, I think, when drawing the line between ‘naked in the sauna’ and ‘naked in the sauna with nipple jewelry.’ If it’s a culture where naked in the sauna is an accepted thing, it’s no more odd than going bowling. But nipple jewelry reads sex and while you may be ok going bowling with your coworkers, you don’t want to have them thinking about what your sexytimes might be like. That part is your business.

    Good luck. Please update us.

    1. Loose Seal*

      Oh I also meant to say that nipple piercings will indeed close up super fast even if you’ve had the piercing for a while*. So definitely don’t remove them unless you have the retainer ready.

      *There’s always exceptions since everyone’s body is different but if you’ve never had them out before, this may not be the time to test it out.

      1. Steve*

        I looked it up and just for those of us without pierced nipples: such piercings can close up within *minutes* in the first year or so, and even after that, it depends. No joke that they can close up during the few hours you are at a sauna!

    2. JSPA*

      People, worldwide, have piercings for all sorts of reasons. Maybe in your friend group / cultural background, nipple piercings are generally understood to be for sexy purposes (or simply, that’s what they mean to you, and because they have that sexual charge for you, you can’t easily imagine it being otherwise for other people).

      But–as for every body decoration or modification–that’s not some sort of universal.

      Compare: people who are not foot fetishists wear shoes (even fancy ones) too. People who wear less clothing can be trying to stay cool, not signal sexiness.

      Nakedness in a sauna /at an onsen / on a nude beach / while breastfeeding isn’t sexytimes nakedness. The norm is to default to the non-sex-related interpretation of “whatever that thing is.”

      1. Loose Seal*

        Thanks for putting me in my place. /s

        I was trying to stave off comments that couldn’t understand why someone was willing to go be naked with coworkers but nipple jewelry was a bridge too far. You know, trying to have some empathy with the questioner.

        But it’s good to know I’m a culture-less lout who is ridiculously prurient. Did you have any additional advice for the OP or were you just wasting comment space to correct me to your more advanced way of thinking?

        1. JSPA*

          Advice to OP was posted first, actually. Jives with what most other people with experience of sauna in N. Europe have said.

          Beyond that, if you want to take verifiable statements of fact as a personal attack, I…can’t prevent that, I guess?

          I’m at a work computer so I’m not gonna google “history and practice of traditional nipple piercing.” You can do so, if so inclined. Or not. I don’t have skin in the game (so to speak).

          1. JSPA*

            Personally speaking, friom a western-ish perspective, I’ve known women to get them as a “taking back their body” after cancer / cancer surgery. Seen punk friends do one (or try to!) back in the early 80’s DIY on each other as a modern-tribal bonding experience or something? (This was during the earliest days of HIV / before broad awareness of HIV.) Or as a separatist thing, to “scare off the straights.”

            I’m not questioning that your experience is totally valid. But one person’s experience doesn’t wipe out other people’s experiences.

            Finally, frankly, yes, I actually am allergic to, “I find X sexy, so people more generally probably find X sexy, so you should be careful letting people see your X.” Whether that’s about seeing someone’s unveiled face, or seeing someone breastfeed, or daring to take a sauna with co-workers, even in a culture that’s very broadly body-accepting.

            1. Loose Seal*

              I didn’t say I find them sexy though (although I can if I happen to find the person they are attached to sexy first). I said they read sexy. The OP is likely worried that most people are going to be thinking sex about them. And, knowing that’s not appropriate for work, wants to know what to do. Do you understand that it doesn’t matter why the OP got theirs to begin with? Whether it’s for reclaiming her body, some cultural appropriation while high, or for sex, sex, sexysex! It’s how they might be worried they will be viewed now.

              You have been quick to let us all know that you are above such mundane things as sex. But, as I’ve said, that doesn’t help the OP. (And I’ve read your first reply to me over and I see no advice to the OP. It seems to be directed to me.)

      2. Ender*

        Im really curious to know more about cultures that have nipple piercings for reasons other than sexiness. Not being sarcastic – genuinely interested.

    1. Gaia*

      I don’t know that this is fair. Depression during an extended stint of unemployment is relatively common and can really impact the way someone behaves towards their search. He may be very invested in it, but it is coming out differently.

    2. Sprinkle Cookie*

      I’m guessing this is not the only area of life in which she’s doing all the enotional labor for him. Just a hunch.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Let’s not go down that path, please. It’s speculation, it’s not the question being asked, and it’s going to make reading comments really unpleasant for the OP. Thanks.

        1. OP#5*

          Thanks Alison for this.

          I wanted to keep the question short and to the point, as I tend to ramble and I didn’t think additional personal information was needed to answer the actual question. I’ll just say that we’re in a long term committed relationship, we’re a team and planning our lives together. This situation has had an impact on both of us and our couple. He’s doing his part, but he’s still depressed, so I’m helping when I can. The though parts are still on him.

          And thanks for your answer Alison ! He’ll probably be able to use a mix of both scripts.

          I know it’s not the most interesting question (I’m looking at you #1 !), but I’d still be interested to hear from people who’ve had similar experiences or have extra advice to give :-)

          1. Story Nurse*

            Depression is a health condition, so it would be perfectly acceptable to say, “I was unwell and took some time to take care of my health. I’m feeling much better now and really eager to get back to work.”

            1. Wasabi*

              Maybe vaguely about health? I guess? I had emailed Alison a question about when to disclose – specifically re where the posting says, “We welcome applications from…. [racialized, gendered, hidden and visible disability, traditionally disadvantaged etc] communities.” I suffer from bipolar and, more recently, psychosis and in direct and indirect ways, it’s given me a horrible, spotty work history over the past 3yrs (which is all the worse bc I have been pretty high performing in the past aka more depression on top of depression). I asked her should I disclose that I have mental health issues in a cover letter if the place is openly inviting candidates with such challenges. She replied with a definite, “NO” that mental health is still stigmatized. I have been trying the, “I’ve been off sick, raring to go now” route in cover letters to try to get around the spotty history. Unable to tell if that’s putting them off or if it’s bc of my crap recent work history. Recently changed to “freelancing and childcare, but now raring to go now” … so long story short, I just don’t think employers want to hear you’ve been off sick.

              1. WS*

                I agree. I was sick with cancer, a kind that’s very unlikely to return, but also had mental health issues in that time. I wouldn’t even disclose the cancer, let alone the mental health issues. People like to think they’re kind about it, and if it’s someone they know they often are, but in an interview situation I think they just shuffle you to the bottom of the pile as a “risk”.

            2. Fall Mums*

              Nope, this is terrible advice. Do not tell your potential employer that you were too sick to work for a year. It raises too many questions and fears to your new employer.

            3. aebhel*

              Agreed. I don’t think there’s any reason to go into detail (and given how mental health issues are treated sometimes, it might be wiser not to), but telling employers that he took some time off to deal with a health issue that has since been resolved shouldn’t raise red flags, I don’t think. At least not with any decent place.

            4. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I wouldn’t use that wording, but “I was dealing with a health issue that has since been resolved” is fine to say. Getting into specifics, though, is not.

          2. Lynca*

            My husband went through this. He interviewed for his then current position during a department re-org and didn’t get it. The depression hit him hard and he had a host of other health issues come up shortly after.

            The script was that he had used the time off to address lingering health issues and was ready to get back into the workforce. He had also taken some additional training as was able to work that in as well. Honestly the short courses really helped his outlook and might be worth looking into if they’re applicable to his skills.

            1. OP#5*

              Thanks for sharing ! He’s started into looking into trainings too, so hopefully if he doesn’t find a job soon he’ll have something else productive to do.

              1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                I was laid off last year and went into a deep depression over it. It took 8 months to find another job. I didn’t do any training or volunteer work either. When asked, I said I took time off to spend with friends and family. It seemed to have worked.

                It’s good that you are compassionate about what he is going through. That helped a lot for me to have a supportive partner along side me to listen to my complaints and encourage me to keep posting for jobs. I hope it’s doing the same for him, more than he may show. Getting back in the game is a good sign.

              2. I'd Rather Not Say*

                I want to put in the good word for colleges and universities (especially community colleges), and libraries which have a lot of training resources, many free. Community members can use their computers, which often have software (Adobe, for example as someone mentioned the licensing fees down-thread), as well as office, etc. to practice or upgrade skills. They also allow you access to many trade and professional publications, and Lynda training resources. Best wishes to you both!

              3. Anon Accountant*

                I didn’t read all the comments but volunteering is good for his resume and will get him out of the house. I know firsthand how hard depression is but he could build some contacts and take involved roles with an organization. Plus could gain new skills depending on the org. Good luck!

          3. irene adler*

            No advice- just wanted to commend you for being supportive to your partner through his depression.
            It’s not always easy-for either of you. Knowing that you two are a team (as you put it) is surely a comfort to him when he’s feeling low.

          4. Hiring Manager*

            OP, I’ve had experience with situations like your from the hiring manager perspective, and my advice is to give your boyfriend the book and maintain a respectful distance from the job search part of your partnership. My experience has been with the parents and spouses of applicants who are driving the push for the job search. From my vantage point, these applicants are not the strongest candidates for the positions I hire for.

            To help him, I suggest talking to him about how things are going, maintaining a helpful interest without pushing or directing his efforts. Plenty of encouragement and affection will help, without being in charge, more like a sounding board. You’re the cheerleader, not the coach.

            In my experience, this more laid-back involvement on your part will help him think usefully about how he gets back into the workforce. Some advisors suggest that you leverage your network to find leads that might interest him, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea.

            Here’s one more thing I’ve seen: The more the partner/spouse/parent gets involved, the job searcher gets LESS busy. I’m not sure of the reasons for this, but I’ve seen it.

            I hope this is helpful and I wish both of you well!

            1. OP#5*

              Thank you for your answer ! I’ll bear it in mind so I don’t cross that line.

              And I don’t want to. When I read here letters about how family members meddle in other people’s professional lives, I’m horrified (no, I’ll never go to a job interview with him and wait for him in the lobby, or contact the hiring manager on his behalf). I didn’t think my question would be read that way. He’s been anxious about how to answer that question (that will surely come up) and asked me about it. I didn’t know what to say, but thought I could find answers here.

              1. OP#5*

                But I can see how that can escalate, and I’m not always sure how to “be” in his job search. Thank you for your advice and words of encouragement :-)

              2. LilyP*

                Your question didn’t read as someone who would do something as out-there as showing up for an interview, but there’s a lot of smaller “helpful” stuff, like maybe researching listings and giving him suggestions on what to apply to, heavily editing his resume or cover letters, reaching out to your network for connections, spending a lot of your energy encouraging/reminding him of things, handling his schedule, etc that can still add up to being Too Involved over time. If none of this applies to you, awesome! There can just be a fine line between “support” and “trying to do it for them” sometimes

            2. ErinW*

              “You’re the cheerleader, not the coach.”

              I say this without sarcasm: this is super helpful. I tend to be a “fixer” with people in my life who don’t want or need that service. This will be good to remember.

          5. Tardigrade*

            I was unemployed for 6-7 months after I graduated from university. I was enthusiastic for a couple months, but after that I was just so dispirited. The only positive was I exercised every day because I had nothing else to do (yay health!). I lived with an elderly family member at the time and told interviewers I had been tending to her health while I was unemployed, which was true, and better than nothing at all.

            It was helpful to have people that believed in me, so keep being supportive OP. And I hope things change for him soon!

            1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

              My spouse has been out of work for nearly a year. In that time he has been the SAHD for our son who was born early, so that’s been our go-to for how to explain.

          6. Qwerty*

            It isn’t too late for him to start volunteering! It won’t explain the year-long gap, but something is better than nothing. It might even help with his depression* a bit. Local support centers (like food pantries and animal shelters) probably have a harder time filling daytime shifts. School just started so the tutoring centers might be in need of volunteers.

            If he’s less social, there’s also volunteering opportunities that can be done at home. For example, knitting/crochet is shown to be therapeutic (something to do with working with our hands) and with winter coming up, many charities will be collecting scarves/hats/earwarmers. (local shelters, Scarves for Special Olympics, Warm Up America, etc).

            *I realize that there are many causes and treatments of depression and that his depression may not be related to being unemployed.

            1. Qwerty*

              You probably know what community has to offer, but in case you need another resource, https://www.volunteermatch.org/ is an option. Some of their postings sound more like unpaid jobs than volunteer positions, but in your boyfriend’s case that might helpful as a segue back to employment.

            2. OP#5*

              This is a great idea ! We’ve never thought of that, only considered training if he’s not able to find a job soon. He’s super social and since he’s feeling worthless and useless, this could really help him on many fronts. Thanks a lot ! (can’t believe we didn’t think about this sooner).

              1. RainyDay*

                I started volunteering with an organization while fully employed but going through a deep and difficult bout of depression, and three years later I can genuinely say the volunteering saved me. It’s an integral part of my life now and gave me SO much more than just a reason to get out of bed.

                Also, I’ve delt with a SO who was unemployed and witnessed how difficult that can be, both in your SO and your relationship. Cheering for you and your fella, OP!

          7. Linzava*

            OP #5,

            I just wanted you to know that I’ve been there. A few years ago, my SO ended up unemployed because he accepted a job offer from a former boss. He got a confirmed start date over email and told to put in his 2 weeks. A month later, after being strung along with excuses like, “HR is waiting on some approval,” he went in and former boss finally admitted there was no job and acted as if he did nothing wrong. My SO couldn’t get his job back and nobody was hiring. He was so depressed that he sat on the couch and did nothing for days on end every week. He spent all his saved tax money just paying bills. I worked, but my income didn’t come close to paying for the necessities. After six months, he was desperate enough to apply at Home Depot who said he was over qualified. Finally he found a job, but we’re still paying off the tax bill.

            A lot of people think that if you’re not working, and you’re not job searching constantly, you’re lazy. It’s absolutely not true. My SO is the hardest working person I know, he’s strong, kind, and always willing to help a person in need. I never for a second lost respect for him in that process. Sometimes a punch in the gut can take down the strongest person, and they need to process it. We don’t often share this hardship we faced with other people because unless you’ve been there, you can’t understand and people can be so judgemental about it.

            As a person whose been there, it sounds like you gave him the judgement free support he needed. I know how hard that is, but you helped him get to the point he is at now. Things will be okay, and he will find a job. One wonderful thing that came out of this was both our perspectives on jobs, we no longer expect loyalty or honesty from our employers. They’re just jobs we do to make money, and that’s okay.

      2. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

        We can spend all day speculating about details not provided, if we’re not interested in helping OP at all.

    3. Smarty Boots*

      Or maybe he’s asking OP for advice. I ask my spouse about work and job search issues, and he’s gone to friends and colleagues to gather info for me. It hardly means I’m less invested in my own job search.

      Anyway, how is your statement helping the OP with the specific issue asked about? It’s not. Please be nice.

      1. RB*

        Hi OP #5. I was in this exact situation. I didn’t look for work for awhile because I had a severance package and didn’t need to look right away. By the time I actually found work it was about nine months later. I frequently got the work-gap question in interviews. Sometimes I mentioned the severance package and other times I didn’t. But I always just said I took a well-deserved break to work on the house and yard and to do some traveling. That was all true to varying degrees. It’s not something they’re going to check up on.

  5. Kay*

    OP1 id probably take them out. Even just because depending on the baths/sauna the elements in the water can tarnish metal.

    1. Future Homesteader*

      And the metal can get really hot! Maybe not studs, but better safe than sorry – I’d swap them out for something in a different material.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        This was my question! I usually take my earrings out if I’m going to a sauna, but my wedding ring doesn’t get hot. Would nipple piercings be detached enough from your body to get uncomfortable?

    2. Loose Seal*

      Nipple piercings can close up really fast, though. Probably not in a couple of hours but if OP takes them out, say, in the morning, it might be that night before they can try to get them back in. And depending on the placement of the piercing, the shape of OP’s nipples, and the type of jewelry, it might be difficult for them to get the jewelry back in. (I’m assuming that the OP isn’t practiced in changing out their nipple jewelry. If you are, OP, just order some clear matte glass retainers, sterilize them, and change them out that day.)

      If there’s a certified piercer in the area where OP lives, I’d recommend going there in advance of the scheduled sauna date to check out options and have the piercer change out the jewelry. If they don’t have clear retainers for sale (although most piercers do, in my experience), ask if you can bring in your own for them to change out. My piercer charges $5 (U.S.) to change out each piercing.

  6. savannnah*

    LW 1. I’ve been to a nude sauna in the US with a intern cohort from a UN agency. No one commented much that day and it was pretty fun but everyone did notice some of the larger tattoo pieces on a few of us. Overall I’d say we didn’t spend that much time naked out of the sauna, which really affected visibility, so it might not be remarked on at all.

  7. Tallulah in the Sky*

    OP 1 : European here (although I can’t speak for all Europeans of course), who’s been to nude spas (with friends, not coworkers) and who is pierced. I’m gonna echo what a lot of people said :
    – it’s an unspoken agreement that you don’t look closely at people’s bodies and talk about them. If you decide to keep the piercings you have, they’ll probably be noticed, but I’d be very surprised if your colleagues mention them, even more so if it’s a more conservative bunch. Piercings are also not taboo anymore, so I don’t think it will be a huge deal to them.
    – If you decide to switch them for a less visible option, go to a piercer and talk about this. There are barbells where the color of the material and the shape will make them practically unvisible.
    – If you’re not used to changing your piercings, you can ask the piercer to do it, even more so since nipple piercings do closely rapidly (and if you hurt yourself while changing piercings you might not be able to go to the spa). I have a piercing where every time I want to change the jewelry, I go to them to make sure it’s done quickly and right.

  8. Tallulah in the Sky*

    OP 2 : I’ve been in your shoes not too long ago. Since this is a question that a prospective employer often ask in interviews in my country, I also didn’t want to fall in the same trap as before. So I prepared for it. Here’s my two cents about how to handle this to get the results you want if you continue your job search.

    Prepare a speech and rehearse being asked that question, that way it won’t be awkward to say it when they’re asking that question. You can of course still them now, but it’s easier to set your expectations early on rather than to having to correct them later.

    Here’s what I said when they asked my salary : “I’m uncomfortable giving this information since I know I’m underpaid at my current job, and I’m partly leaving because of this. I’ve done my research on the market rate for this position and in this field and expect to be offered a salary package based on this rather than my currently underrated one.” When they pressed to still know what I’m being currently paid, I told them, but still said “Again, my reason for leaving is that I want to be paid fairly for my work.”.

    If in the interview or in the offer stage they mention a salary below what you’re expecting, stand your ground : “As I said earlier, I’m leaving my current job because I want to be paid fairly. Based on my research and on the benefits part of the offer, I’m expecting a salary of minimum XXXX”.

    Seriously, repeat those speeches and play those scenarios ad nauseum, so when the topic comes up you won’t even have to think about it, it will roll of your tongue.

    1. WWF*

      Some cities and states have banned employers and their agents from making any inquiries regarding salary history. If you’re in such a jurisdiction, like NYC, you can respond that you wouldn’t want to cause the recruiter or employer to inadvertently violate the law.

      1. Tallulah in the Sky*

        True, I’ve seen this information on this site. I’m from Belgium, where it’s legal (and common) to ask that question, so I didn’t have anything to say on this.

        But yes OP, check out the links Alison provided, there are several posts on this topic on the site (and who have lots of comments too).

      2. Lily in NYC*

        I work in a quasi-governmental office in NYC and we’ve followed that policy since before it was a law. I’ve never had the nerve to ask if that means my office wouldn’t provide our salaries if a prospective job called to ask. I’m worried they’d think I was planning to leave and/or lie about my salary. It’s neither, I’m just curious!

      1. Tallulah in the Sky*

        Yes ! Didn’t even have to negotiate, this was totally in line with the max I would have asked. I checked it with some peers in my field, and all said it was a great offer.

        Doesn’t mean it always goes that way though, but sometimes it does. And if you’re not clear with them, it never does.

    2. Kes*

      I actually would be nervous to say that I’m underpaid because I’d be worried that they would take that as they could not pay me as much and it would still be an improvement. Personally, how I’ve handled it is just to say “I’m not interested in sharing that information, but I’m looking for $X”

      1. Tallulah in the Sky*

        This is also a valide course of action.

        Me, I’m more relaxed and confident when I’m upfront with stuff. Also, since I live in a place where it’s legal to ask for that information, it could damage my chances if I refuse to provide any information. In my case, eventually giving them that information but with a clear understanding that they’ll still need to pay me fairly was the best I could do. And if they come back with a low offer, you can always negotiate. Chances are, if they’re willing to pay someone (for the same job, you have the same experience, etc) a certain amount, they’ll be ready to pay you that same amount, even if your last salary was lower (and if they don’t, do you really want to work in such a place ?).

  9. Oirishgal*

    OP 3; I work in employee health and wellbeing field and it is generally agreed by industry experts that these surveys should be on a 2-3 yearly cycle to allow for cultural/organisational change. Every 6 months is madness. You’d barely have one completed before next one starts; your employer IS just paying lipservice to them.

    1. DustyJ*

      I agree with this. It sounds like lip-service.
      I would really be concerned with how I was viewed by the people in the other department.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      Yup. Ours is every 6 months and it is always the same. And some of the questions are (IMO) BEYOND stupid. “Do you have a best friend at work?” WTF??????
      I finally got my new computer after 4 rounds and we did some volunteering as part of team building this year (which most people, myself included, really liked so that is 2 successful team building events that are 100% optional and paid).
      And the timing is always the worst – either right before Thanksgiving when half the people are out then middle of summer when the other half are out.

      1. RedSonja*

        Oh, we get that question too! Gallup survey?

        Ours this year was conducted in the run-up to a strike action because our employer won’t bargain with several of our unions. The results have been… unsurprising.

      2. Genny*

        I think the point of that question is having a work friend can be part of building resiliency and can make work more pleasant. I still feel like there’s a better way to get that information though, especially because what is your company going to do if you answer “no”? Hire a friend for you?

      3. Autumnheart*

        We do the same survey, for the most part, although in the last couple years we’ve replaced that question with a different one. And we used to do it every 6 months, but that wasn’t nearly enough time to actually act on the information in any significant way. Now we do it once a year and then have a half-yearly check-in to discuss how the problem issues are being addressed.

    3. Tardigrade*

      Yeah, the survey is pointless if it’s done that frequently. I would be curious to know how completion trends from cycle to cycle, because I’d bet a lot of people don’t bother even taking it anymore (assuming it’s not mandatory).

  10. atma*

    About the sauna. I also think it would be completely OK to keep your towel wrapped around your body, because FOREIGNER, not comfortable with the begin naked part! You can’t wear clothes or swimsuits generally, but you do bring a towel to sit on, so if you also wrap the towel around you, it really shouldn’t be a big deal!

    1. Future Homesteader*

      In Russia this is definitely completely acceptable! Although their sauna/banya culture is a bit different, and generally is single-sex for the naked parts…

      1. CanCan*

        Yup, nudity in the presence of the opposite sex is not a thing in Russia. Nudity around the same sex is fine.

        My parents and I went to a sauna in Germany, and my dad (being Russian and super-shy about women seeing him naked) thought that nobody would mind if he wore his swim shorts. (His thinking being everybody would mind their own business, as in Canada.) Nope! The sauna guy came in, pointed sternly at my dad’s shorts, and almost yelled: “Auf oder Aus!” (i.e. take them off or get out!) He was definitely not joking. However, wrapping a towel around his private parts was completely fine.

    2. Silicon Valley Girl*

      Ditto on the towels — I’m American & all the U.S. saunas I’ve been to (fancy spas & such like) are single-sex & naked, but towels are required to sit on. Some ppl keep wrapped up, some don’t, individual preference. Heck, it was referred to in a Sex in the City episode, & while I believe Charlotte was shamed a little for wrapping up, when I’ve been to saunas, nobody cared who was wrapped or not. No talking, just steaming.

  11. Em too*

    #3, it would be normal to start a workshop by summarising what’s happened since the last one. Asking management to provide such a summary might start some interesting conversations.

    1. AMPG*

      I like this a lot, but I think the OP should make this a condition of their teaching the workshop, not by calling management on the carpet at the beginning.

  12. fast-fish, loose-fish*

    #1 – my first thought, and seems like no one’s mentioned it yet: depending on how hot the sauna is, it might not be wise to wear any metal jewelry at all…but for a different reason than worrying about coworkers’ reactions to your Scandalous Piercings: to avoid the possibility of getting burned!

    I for one always remove any (metal) jewelry before going into a sauna – the last thing you want is for the metal to heat up and burn your skin (especially true for nipple piercings, I imagine!)

    1. Tallulah in the Sky*

      Nope, it shouldn’t be an issue. All metal piercings I know are medical grade metal, which doesn’t heat up (I buy them in shops though, not online where maybe quality is less). I have piercings close to my lips and my boyfriend has one of his nipple pierced, and this has never been an issue, even in sauna’s with 60°C +.

      But if you have any doubts about it, ask your piercer.

        1. Tallulah in the Sky*

          OK. But it will heat up way less. I may be using the wrong term, but I know the metal piercings I buy in shops don’t heat up in saunas (or at least, not to the point where you’ll hurt yourself, it has never been an issue for us). Plastic or glass, like others have suggested, will probably heat up more.

          And as I said, the best is to go to your piercer to be sure to have the correct information.

      1. Hot metal*

        It can be an issue. I had a nose ring get really uncomfortably hot in a sauna. I didn’t suffer burns, but it wasn’t pleasant. It was implant-grade either steel or titanium.

    2. Kiwi*

      My experience is that if the metal’s in contact with your skin, it stays down at body temperature. If large bits of it aren’t in contact with your skin, those bits’ll get hot. In my case, this means earrings don’t get hot at all.

      1. JSPA*

        Oooh, that’s a good point. I’ve gotten mild face burns from my glasses shifting. Maybe do a “dry run” (non-work sauna) to figure out compatibility.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        This is a good practical point about the science–is the metal mostly in contact with the air (at 120°) or your skin (at 100°)? I would expect studs anywhere to be fine (same as wedding rings) but anything long and dangly to potentially be a problem.

      3. ket*

        Exactly right. Stud earrings that stay in contact with your skin, ok. Necklace that never shifts off your skin and is pretty small, ok. Rings, ok. Dangly anything — nope nope nope! So a nose ring that has some space between your skin and the ring may get hot enough to hurt, as someone posted above. With a nipple ring, if there are parts that are completely surrounded by air (as opposed to flush against the skin) I would be worried, frankly. (Surely there is advice on this from Finnish piercers.) One way to deal with that would be to wear a bathing suit or bikini top if you’re female, as it would keep the ring close to your skin and you could pour water on your front. If you’re a guy…. a bandaid?

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yeah I had the same thought as soon as I read the comments about it most likely being Finland. Never been to a Finnish sauna, but a lot of the people from my hometown have, and from what I heard, those saunas get REALLY hot.

  13. Crazy (non-rich) Asian*

    Op#1, if you are in scandinavia/nordics, rest assured that nobody is going to ask you about nipple piercings, unless you are bosom buddies. They are NOT going to mention anything, it’s a big taboo if they do. On my first sauna I wore a towel around me but took it off as the towel made me more conscious of my body.

    If mixed sauna, usually men and women are separated in different rooms or use briefs at work.

    Onnea OP! You will meet some lovely people, who mean what they say, and enjoy some beautiful nature, and have great work life balance.

  14. Crazy (non-rich) Asian*

    Oh and many scandinavians are secretly metal – they have seen all piercings and tattoos, trust me, and might even have a few themselves.

  15. Yellow Bird*

    Oof, OP#1. That sounds like a very particular work culture. You seem to be fine with the sauna part in general though, so good for you. I would assume that your piercings are generally not a big deal (no matter how conservative the work culture is, I’m sure you’ll discover that some of your colleagues are into tattoos and piercings as well), but I can understand that it’s information you would rather keep private. I echo would others have said and suggest a nude colored piercing to replace the one you have.

  16. The Other Katie*

    OP#1, I wouldn’t worry about this at all. Part of the rules of the sauna is that you don’t comment (and pretend you don’t even notice) the bodies of strangers. While this might not technically be a group of strangers, it sounds like you’re not close enough to have anyone remark on it (or admit they’ve noticed it). Plus, even conservative Europeans tend to be more laid back about these things than Americans.

    1. Tedesca*

      Yes, the sauna convention (at least here) is to ignore the nudity of others and behave as if people are dressed. I describe it as being factually naked, but socially dressed. The modesty norms are different from those in the UK or US, but to the locals in my country that still falls under the modesty rules, as locally understood.
      Also discussing the bodies of other people with them seems to be rather less common here than (from reading this site) it appears to be in the US, so it is less likely to be an issue.

      1. The Other Katie*

        Yes, exactly! That was the rule I was trying to express but could not quite come up with the words for. Yes, you’re naked, and so is everyone else, and you’re supposed to just ignore it.

        1. Someone Else*

          It’s like Fight Club. #1 rule of being naked in a sauna is you don’t talk about being naked in a sauna. So I think OP can possibly take some comfort in that. Still, I can understand her wanting to be prepared in case someone is rude and comments anyway. It also sounds to me like OP is concerned a bit that even if they don’t say anything, and do abide by the “pretend you see nothing” convention, they still might internally have a reaction when they see it and judge her for it. We can’t really know how probable that is. I would guess it’s probably decreased by the fact that people won’t really be looking closely, so they might not even notice. They’ll be busy minding their own sauna business. The suggestions to swap out for something clear or less conspicuous probably also work. Personally I think the risk here is low, but OP can gauge her own potential discomfort, and if she doesn’t think swapping out the jewelry for something less noticeable is a good enough solution, then it is worth considering maybe just not going at all, just for her own piece of mind. If she’s going to stress about it too much wondering, it may not be worth participating.

  17. Detective Amy Santiago*

    LW #3 – you would be doing a huge service to all of the people who likely loathe these sessions by declining to host them. There is nothing worse than having upper management go through the motions of pretending like they care what their employees think when they actually don’t.

    The other, super passive-aggressive option, would be to mention when you’re reporting your findings “X was brought up as an issue for the 4th time with mention that it had yet to be resolved”.

    1. OP#3*

      I think everyone has the best intentions, there just doesn’t seem to be any follow through.
      Thanks for your comment!
      When I internally think “duh!” I tend to lean toward super passive-aggressive behavior, so I need to be careful :)

  18. Detective Amy Santiago*

    LW #4 – this sounds so, so shady. If they want you to complete the course, they should pay for it. Full stop. Hopefully Alison’s script will work and this sounds like another check in the “GTFO ASAP” column.

    1. MLB*

      It’s actually not shady, it’s quite common as far as I’ve seen. Think about it. Company sends you to take a course to further your job skills, then when you’re finished, you get a new job right away. You’ve taken the education they paid for, and used it to go somewhere else. How is that fair to the company? Everywhere I’ve worked that is willing to pay for you to further your education has an expectation (and generally a rule that is written out in a handbook) that you will stay for a certain period of time so that they can benefit from your new skills. I don’t think that’s unreasonable or shady.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I would agree with you completely if LW approached them and said “I’d like to take this course”. But if they are saying “we would like you to take this course”, then it’s on them.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yeah, that’s the disturbing part. “Having you become a llama shaver is in our best interest, so we want to send you to a llama-shaving course. But if you quit within a year – even if you quit because you realize you hate shaving llamas and never want to see a llama again – you have to pay us back.”

          1. Erin*

            It sounds to me more like an accounting class at community college, less than this is how you use our equipment or our computer programs. If it’s a skill that’s unique to the company then the company pays for it. For instance my company uses a computer system so outdated (pre- windows 95) that they have to pay us to learn it because it only benefits the company. Using their programming is not a transferable skill.

        2. AMPG*

          Yes, this is the key. My last job had a decent professional development fund that had the same repayment requirement described here, but it was for things employees chose. Any training someone received in the course of their work (e.g. training for new managers done by a contractor) was paid for by the company with no expectation of reimbursement.

      2. Background Atmosphere Lizard*

        Actually, Alison aleady explained why it’s unreasonable well in her response:

        “It’s not uncommon for companies to require a repaying agreement when they do tuition reimbursement — but that’s usually education that the employee herself is pursuing and the company is paying as a benefit. It’s not typical or reasonable to do this for job-related training that your manager is proposing on her own.”

        If you want to have your employee complete an expensive course to benefit your business, it’s on you to weigh the risks against the benefits. Attempting to foist them on your employee is unethical and bad business practice.
        Don’t want to pay for a training to have your employee quit 2 months later?
        – Be a great employer! Offer competitive wages&benefits, respect your employees need for work/life balance, create a great work environment, be fair and transparent and offer opportunites for career development&growth.
        – Don’t expect your employees to take on the risks of running a business for you (this really cannot be repeated enough!). If you cannot afford for an employee to leave your company for 12 months after a training you wanted them to take, you cannot afford the training. Period.
        – Give your employees reason to trust you with the info that they’re job hunting by treating that information as the gift to you it is – there can be no negative repercussions (no sudden taking issue with their work when you were happy with them before, no sulking&taking it personally (egads), no passing them over for possible promotions without at least talking about it with them to see if they’d be interested to stay with your company in that new role) and frankly, if they’re a good worker, you should offer to be a reference for them or provide them with a written one.

  19. rez123*

    #1 The unspoken rule of Sauna culture is that you never comment to the person or anyone else about each others bodies. If anything you don’t notice or pretend not to notice anything. Also, I can’t really see anywhere in europe being that conservative that nipple piercings would be a big deal.

    I’m from a naked sauna culture. Sauna with coworkers and clients is not uncommon, but it is not something everyone does. It is ok (especially for foreigners) to have a towel wrapped around (see above about commenting). Rumour has it that the biggest political deals have been negotiated in a sauna. Also, here mixed gender saunas are not uncommon but they are mostly gender segregated especiall if people are not close with each other.

    Story: this was not at work, but at an international camp. We went swimming in Iceland and me and my fellow ordics were totally fine with communal showers and sauna. One of the irish girls after finishing showering said “I guess this is the closest thing to a prison experience I’ll get” :D. It was very funny and a good reminder on culture and nudity.

    In case people are interested in european sauna rules: https://www.finduselsewhere.com/places/the-naked-truth-about-european-sauna-etiquette/

    1. Kelly*

      Had a similar experience in Iceland. Traveled with a woman I’m not super close with (until then) and as we got naked I laughed and said “well THIS is happening”. It was a good start to a great trip!

  20. JSPA*

    OP#1
    as you asked for scripts, not for a poll on whether others would sauna with colleagues, here are a few.

    “oh, yeah, it’s something some of my friend group were doing in school.” (this one works whether or not you did it as part of group or whether or not you did it in school.)

    “some of us did it years ago. I kept mine, because, why not?” (use if true, or if it’s within your white lie zone).

    “Is it rare here? I suppose it depends where you’re from, in the US.”

    “Oh, I almost forget I have them.”

    They’re all a) vague b) not disprovable c) suggest this isn’t a topic of current interest for you d) imply that it is or was something normal in a subset of your culture, not something you’re doing to stand out or be shocking.

    If you’re female and among females, you may get the “will it interfere with eventual nursing if you choose to have kids” question. I’m guessing you already have answers to that (“it’s supposed to be fine,” “my sorority sister who has a piercing and a child didn’t have any problems,” etc.)

    You may get the, “I could never do that, I’m so freaked out by needles.” That’s not normally a lifestyle judgement one, it’s a statement of discomfort at the thought of the process, and should be treated as such (compare to people who share that they can’t give blood because they faint.)

    But really, unless you’ve got some giant hardware, they’re…really not so rare, not if you include everyone who had one in the last 50 years. You may get, “wow, that takes me back to the 90’s. Good you kept yours, mine closed up.” Note: that’s not a statement that requires an answer (nor does it presume a certain lifestyle; piercings have at various times been “in” with quite a variety of different social groups.)

    NB, if this were onsen in Japan, I’d possibly give different advice. But a European Sauna? Seems harmless.

  21. MLB*

    LW4 – I find nothing wrong or unusual with this practice, whether it be a course, a degree or a certification. If a company is willing to pay to further your education, it’s not unreasonable to expect a commitment from you that you will use that education to benefit the company for a certain period of time. A 12 month commitment is a normal expectation in my experience.

    I can understand not wanting to move forward with taking the course if you’re trying to leave a dysfunctional environment. But you need to weigh the pros and cons. If you take this course, it will probably make you more attractive to another company (especially if it’s a PMP cert), and staying for another year may benefit you in the long run.

    1. peachie*

      This would make more sense if it was a course LW was actively asking to take, though, whereas it sounds like the company wants them to take the course. Even if it’s not required, I would feel weird about navigating the situation if my boss said “here’s a really cool course I’d like you to take [with this condition attached]!” I’d feel uncomfortable with that condition even if I wasn’t planning on leaving my job–things happen, and I wouldn’t want to be on the hook for a huge amount of money for a year. At the same time, saying “no” could very well come off as suspicious to a (bad) work environment where it’s clear that “I might leave” wouldn’t be received well. I agree with Alison’s script; I think “who knows what could happen and I’m not in a place financially to potentially take that on” is a reasonable line of argument.

  22. Wowza*

    Am I the only one who finds it hilarious that LW #1 is worried that her “conservative” coworkers will judge her for for nipple piercings at a *company sponsored* nude sauna??? My mind is officially blown on this Wednesday morning.

    1. ElspethGC*

      I mean, sauna is traditional in many cultures (and nude mixed-gender sauna in a couple, notably Finland and I think Estonia), so that’s pretty reasonable for a conservative company. Tradition=conservative for many people. It’s not progressive, it’s a normal part of traditional culture. Nipple piercings, on the other hand, *aren’t* traditional.

      1. JSPA*

        Not in the cultures of most people with internet access, but certainly documented in quite a number of traditional cultures who engage in body modification. Not really something to google at work, but an interesting google goal for the evening, if you’re so inclined. : )

        Same as with tattoos, where a bike chain on the calf of a western urbanite ≠ “Mom” on the bicep of your grandpa who was in the navy in WWII ≠ a Maori Ta Moko ≠ a full shirt on a Yakuza ≠ a rose at the top of butt cleavage etc etc etc.

        1. ElspethGC*

          I did mean more “the cultures that have nude saunas as a tradition don’t also have nipple piercings as a tradition”, but I agree that some places do! I’m pretty sure that if you take any body modification possible, there’ll be somewhere where it’s traditional.

    2. Lily*

      Going to the sauna here (some parts of Europe) really isn’t thought of as progressive or conservative. It’s just considered some health/wellness activity, a bit like going to the gym.

      1. aebhel*

        Yeah, given the context this seems a bit like being worried that coworkers will see expansive tattoos while one is in gym clothes. The gym clothes are contextually appropriate, but some people will still have an issue with the tattoos.

        (I am not European and have never been to a sauna, nude or otherwise)

      2. Delphine*

        Right, but coworkers going to a nude sauna together certainly stretches professional boundaries, whatever country you’re in, and so one would assume if a company/coworkers are fine with the nude sauna part, they’d be accepting of the nipple rings part as well.

        1. ElspethGC*

          I really think that’s putting your culture’s norms onto another. It doesn’t stretch professional boundaries if you’re somewhere where this is completely normal and accepted.

          Someone up-thread says (paraphrased) “I’m from a nude sauna culture and going to a sauna with coworkers or clients is not uncommon”, which about sums it up. It would stretch professional boundaries in *your* country/culture, but not in ones where this is a somewhat common practice.

        2. Tallulah in the Sky*

          This is what I don’t get in all those comments similar to yours : why do you think someone/a culture being okay with colleagues going nude to saunas would be okay with pierced nipples ? One has nothing to do with the other. Many cultures, as this one apparently (whatever country or region this is), are ok with seeing certain people nude in certain circumstances. Why does it automatically mean they’re OK with piercings ? Is it because you think a culture OK with the first has shattered all common sense and just must be bananza and have zero boundaries/hang ups/taboos/… ? Or that being nude is sexual, nipple piercings are sexual, so both go together ?

          I must admit that not knowing where the OP works kinda makes it impossible to say “Yes, they will be shocked, hide them as much as you can” or “No, this is no big deal there”. All I (and many others from similar cultures) can say is that if communal sauna is part of this culture, they won’t comment on your body in or out the sauna, so you can be relaxed about that. Whether they’ll internally think you’re a freak or not, that we can’t help you with without more information. But even so, you have options to make them way less visible, even to the point where your colleagues might not notice them at all (again, nobody’s going to ogle you or stare at your nipples).

          1. ElspethGC*

            +100

            I’m not from a nude sauna culture (I’m British – we’re notoriously prudish!) but I’m getting weirded out by some comments here. “Clearly if this one thing that is taboo in my culture is accepted in their culture, all our taboos are accepted over there” with an occasional subtext (and occasional not-subtext) of “because they have no boundaries or sense of professional norms”. It’s like…no. That’s not how this works.

            In my culture, it’s pretty damn taboo to talk about finances with acquaintances. You don’t talk about how much your car/suit/house/new shoes cost. You just *don’t*. You also don’t talk about sex. It’s like me saying “Well, talking about how much your car cost isn’t a taboo topic of conversation in your culture, so now I’m going to ask you about how many times a week you have sex with your wife.” Two very different taboo topics!

        3. Lily*

          But that’s the point: in some places it *doesn’t* stretch professional boundaries to go to the sauna together, and “being nude” is in some of these places a necessary but not really thought of side effect of going to the sauna, so you just don’t mind.

          That’s a bit like “going to the beach in a bikini” is fine, and thus you won’t mind wearing swimming wear on a beach. But you would mind wearing a bikini/swimming suit/whatever to the mall. It’s the place and not the clothing item. Except that in this case, the appropriate clothing for sauna is naked.

    3. Yellow Bird*

      Yes, I it’s really funny…it made me think about the cultural perception of nudity, boundaries, and self-image. Mind well and truly blown.

    4. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

      Given that 90% of this thread is occupied by unproductive, prurient aghastness, no, I don’t think you are the only one.

  23. McWhadden*

    OP1 I would just enjoy the sauna without worrying about it! (Well, that’s a lie no way would **I** enjoy being naked with my co-workers but in your shoes, I mean.) Piercings aren’t that unusual anymore. And you dress appropriately at work so that they would never be noticeable there. This is a circumstance where that isn’t feasible.

    It sounds like a good bonding experience. And as long as you are not uncomfortable with the essence of it (which would be different and of course you shouldn’t be forced to partake then) I wouldn’t worry. I’m sure commenting on body parts would be the epitome of rude in such a context.

  24. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    #3;

    When you are asked to to lead these workshops can you clarify your role? I typically assume that if I lead a workshop I’m also going to be involved in the after event activities. By asking though you may be able to get an idea of who the hand off person is (if it’s not you) and what the plans are for the outcomes of the workshop. Effectively if you get a blank stare when you ask the question you’ll know that the plan hasn’t really been thought through and you can push for a better plan. “Hmm, it looks like there might need to be some more thought on the goals and follow up plan from the workshop, do you want to think about that some and let me know? I’m afraid that if there isn’t a plan to follow up on the outcomes of the workshop the participants will start to view them negatively and you won’t get the results you are looking for”

    If you find that you can’t get out of running these and suddenly get nominated as the person responsible for the after event actions. Then one thing to do in the workshop itself is to take time to document action items, teams, and parking lot items. Assign owners (who are not you) to everything and then get agreement on the plan to follow up on the action items.

    1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

      Yeah, I wondered if it might be – implicitly, perhaps – expected that she would take charge of advocating for the conclusions.

    2. OP #3*

      The workshops are 100% around the production environment for commercialized products, and I rarely go on the factory floor. I am mostly a stranger to the production folks and like I mentioned, have zero visibility to day to day operations/issues/concerns. I know who the hand off person is, and though I can make recommendations. I could even ask about updates. We are friendly. We are also lean, which means that I usually go back to my full time job and stop thinking about the issues until they come up again and again.
      This year will set up a debriefing meeting with the stakeholders and include some action items. Maybe there is something I can do :) Thanks!

  25. yup*

    # 2- I am relieved this practice is going away, but it sucks when it still happens.

    The script that I have been the most comfortable with is “My understanding is that studies show tying current salary to previous ones disproportionately affects women and minorities, so there is a push against asking this question as standard practice. The other companies I am speaking with have a salary range of $X-$Y.”

  26. CrispyBits*

    RE: OP 1, I assume your piercings are made of metal? Bringing metal to a sauna is not a good idea, so you’d be better off taking them out anyway… burning your nipples from the inside out is something I’d personally try to avoid.

  27. jolene*

    I’m European and go to a lot of nudist beaches etc etc. We’ve seen everything and totally don’t care, LW1. Don’t worry for a moment. Any company taking you to a naked sauna (Scandis?) really, really won’t mind whatever you’ve got pierced under your clothes.

  28. Gregor*

    #5 – I’m not criticizing AAM’s advice for this one, but it sucks lying is the only way to not make you seem lazy/not motivated when being depressed is a natural response to a prolonged unsuccessful job search. There are probably a lot of people that get in this mode and aren’t doing any ‘professional development’ (i.e. courses, volunteering, etc.) during unemployment.

    1. The Duchess*

      Yes, I’m in the same boat and trying to fudge around the issue makes me feel even worse. Unfortunately lying to fit in with society’s expectations of “normal’ is an everyday thing for people with depression, and to me it’s a daily reminder that what I think and feel and do is “wrong” and needs to be kept secret. Telling the truth makes it virtually impossible to hold down a job or maintain friendships. Trying to dodge the small talk is also unacceptable, and has in my case led to a dismissal from a job for being a bad cultural fit. I’ve become quite good at making up elaborate stories about my non-existent friends and hobbies in response to “how was your weekend?” … but I really wish i didn’t have to.

  29. Erin*

    I don’t speak for all Americans but for myself, being nude is an intimate thing, not necessarily a sexual thing. Like I wouldn’t hesitate at breast feeding with full nipple exposure in front of mine and my husband’s best friend. But I wouldn’t dream of doing it in front of my boss.
    I’m not anti-nudity and actually think nudity is funny. I always laugh at streakers. In college I had a good friend who was a nudist, it was out of place to visit him at home and he was dressed. (Nudity and frying bacon don’t mix.)
    But I need that psychological separation between work friends and personal friends. I think a lot of people are like that just not Americans.

  30. Nanani*

    #1
    Ask a local person! Ideally someone similar to you, meaning another American in that country, but been there longer.
    Or try expat forums or something like that.

    This is more of a social thing than a work thing, so people with culture-specific knowledge are more likely to be helpful.

  31. The Tin Man*

    OP # 5

    I was in sort of a similar situation to your boyfriend, first losing my job and being unemployed then followed by being underemployed because I need to find a job, any job, to make rent. When asked about what I had been up to I usually focused on talking about making sure I found the right fit.

    As for finding a place, I had great success with a temp agency. I had someone else job searching in parallel to my own search. I am of course obviously biased because I got a temp-to-hire position that ended up hiring me after 6 months, getting me back in the salary neighborhood of the job I originally lost (and, y’know, a 150% raise over my full-time but underemployed job).

  32. HailRobonia*

    I used to have a nipple piercing and have a few tattoos. When I was living in Taiwan and working as an English teacher one of my students saw me at a local pool and it was the talk of the office and class the next day. I could pretend to ignore the gossip because I kept the fact that I am fluent in Chinese secret from my coworkers and students. The fact that I’m a white guy made the situation easier, I think; basically anything Americans did could be chalked up to “look at those crazy foreigners!”

  33. Smarty Boots*

    OP #3, Everybody knows these sessions are pointless and nothing will ever change. That’s why it’s different people at the sessions every time. BTDT, stopped going to pointless sessions like this. Stopped replying to surveys that asked for input because they were pointless too.

    Don’t be their patsy.

  34. Marthooh*

    #2 – “Just to clarify, when you mentioned going $3000 over my current salary, did you mean per quarter or per year?”

  35. Anonymosity*

    #1—I imagine that everyone who regularly does these saunas has seen all kinds of body piercings. Honestly, they might see your genitalia, so the last thing on earth I’d be worried about is a nipple piercing. If it’s part of the culture there, then people are probably very used to it and it’s not anywhere near the big deal it would be in the States. Someone mentioned not having metal in the sauna, so if there is some kind of thingy you can substitute to keep the hole open, I’d do that instead. It might be you can find a clear post or something that’s more discreet.

    #5—When asked what I’ve been doing during unemployment, I just say I’ve been working on personal projects. I was asked once about job training, but since I can’t afford any good training, I just said that things like an Adobe subscription and comprehensive courses online are not really feasible until I have an income. I’ve never been challenged on that–most employers have been like “Oh yeah, totally” about software subscriptions. (BTW f*ck you for that, Adobe.)

    If I have to say what the personal projects are, I say they’re writing projects. They don’t need to know the rest are things like cleaning out my closets and growing heirloom tomatoes, LOL.

    They haven’t asked about open-source software, which I have some of, but like #5’s husband, I’ve been so stressed out it’s difficult to concentrate on anything. I do have my ebook cover on my portfolio, which I did myself in GIMP (and ran it by a friend who is a graphic designer). In fact, a silly little procedural document on my portfolio got me an interview this week for a very low-level technical writing position. (FINGERS CROSSED!) I would have to use Illustrator at the job, but I learn stuff like that pretty fast, especially when I’m hands-on in the weeds.

  36. flps*

    LW1 (sauna), why not first go to a sauna in another town some distance away, where you’re unlikely to run into co-workers, and see whether anyone seems to be startled by your piercings, and maybe get an idea as to whether other people have similar piercings?

  37. Kate*

    OP #2 – I’m late here, but the practice of asking what your salary history is is increasingly illegal on a state by state basis, the rationale being a job should be worth a certain amount objectively. Check out the current regulatory landscape here: https://www.hrdive.com/news/salary-history-ban-states-list/516662/

    It’s up to you how much you want to push it if you are in a state where it’s illegal to ask, but if nothing else, know your rights!

    1. OP2*

      Unfortunately it’s legal in my state, but some other posters have come up with some great scripts/ways to work around this. Hopefully it’ll be illegal everywhere soon, it really feels like a cop out sort of question ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  38. mliz*

    #1
    As a European, I would not be shocked or scandalized by pierced nipples. I’m not a sauna person (nude or otherwise, if I were I’d probably go nude though), but my general understanding of sauna is that there is a social contract anyway that no one cares you’re naked and no one stares. And even if I saw your pierced nipples at the pool or beach or wherever, I wouldn’t care. Maybe I’d comment once but more in a “oh those are cool” fashion than anything else.

    I had a male friend, this was in the late 90s, who had one pierced nipple and was pretty weirded out because people kept wanting to touch because they were curious. At some point he asked me if he were a woman, would they ask him the same. The answer was probably no, but even at a time when this was more a subculture than a mainstream thing, people weren’t scandalized per se. It’s very likely your colleagues have seen pierced nipples before.

  39. Polly Perks*

    “Hey, I’m American, and thus I need to maintain a fiction that no one can see me right now.”

    Can I just…use this everywhere?

  40. Essess*

    There are more and more places that have made it illegal to ask for your salary history. Here is a link to a list (from August 2018) https://www.hrdive.com/news/salary-history-ban-states-list/516662/. If you are in the list, you might be able to politely reach out and tell them that you’ve discovered that it is not legal for them to base your offered salary on your previous salary history and you’d like to make sure that they’re starting your rate at the appropriate point in their internal pay scale for your amount of experience.

  41. Noah*

    #4 might also choose to mention that it is illegal to require an employee to pay for a mandatory work activity.

    1. Antilles*

      1.) I’m actually not sure it is illegal with the way at-will doctrine works in the US (possibly excepting California). I know the topic has come up before several times at AAM and the response has been that requiring employees to pay for business expenses is awful and dumb, but legal. Related, the way OP phrased the letter “really likes me and wants to send me on a course” doesn’t make it seem to really be ‘mandatory’ in a strict sense of the word.
      2.) Courts typically provide a LOT of deference to specific contractual agreements. You agreed to the terms that you would repay $X if you left the company within 12 months and you voluntarily chose to leave, therefore, your contract governs.

  42. solar flare*

    The dissonance in #1 between “my company has a yearly trip to a nude sauna” and “the work culture is relatively conservative” is blowing my mind. Relative to WHAT???

  43. Nil*

    Just embrace it. I can tell from just how much you wrote that you’re self concious about it. As a dude eith pierced nips, just embrace yourself and love it. If it doesn’t work out, just take them out.

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