It’s official: summer is over and Christmas will be here in what will feel like three days from now. I know this neither because rust and gold are already sneaking into the Cotwolds foliage (they are) nor because my black turtleneck sweater is in regular wardrobe rotation (it is), but because today I made my first Christmas present purchases. I spent a ludicrous sum on two exquisite, leather-bound notebooks at the Smythson of Bond Street outlet in Heathrow’s Terminal 3, the kind of impulse purchase I can only justify as a gift even when it is VAT-free. The shop assistant spent so much time tying navy blue, grosgrain bows on the various layers of packaging (which no doubt account for a considerable portion of the ludicrous sum) that I almost missed my flight to Helsinki.

It may have been I was subconsciously trying to miss the flight. When the business trip was first suggested a couple weeks ago, I was excited having never been to Finland. Then an Outlook invitation showed up in my inbox requesting my presence for a sauna following the meeting. There are few things I can think of that I would like to do less than see my mostly male work colleagues in a state of semi-undress, a sentiment I am sure they reciprocate. The prospect has been lingering in my psyche like a bad smell for the past week, surfacing occasionally with ill-timed arrivals of mental images of my sweaty, beet-faced co-workers sporting only a thin, white towel.

And should I steel myself and adopt the when in Rome attitude, just what exactly is the etiquette for a sauna? Bathing suit, towel only, is it really mixed gender à la the Ally McBeal bathrooms? As I ponder the smorgasbord of opportunities to embarrass myself, I suddenly feel like a very, very uptight American. The only way through this is going to be with humor, and I resolve to adopt that most admirable characteristic of my fellow Brits: the ability to take the piss out of oneself.

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