I soon found out a cultural difference I wouldn't have expected.
Politely I was informed that if I wanted privacy I could use the men's room because men seldom visited the little spa where I was. That would be more modest I was told. The information was politely provided, just a reminder that here I was in territory still foreign to me with cultural difference I hadn't considered.
The spa is in Natchitoches, Louisiana right near the heart of the downtown area and adjunct to a medical clinic. It is bright and lovely, with a view of the river, and has all the amenites to make one feel great, including massage, special showers, nail treatments and makeup demonstrations. Hot tea and fresh fruit along with soft music rounds out a delightful experience. But being stark naked in front of other women is unique enough for conversation and a reminder that modesty is defined differently by women depending upon where they live.
I moved with my husband to Natchitoches from Hawaii where we had lived 28 years. I went to a health club several times weekly for many years in the islands. The women's locker area was a place where women gossiped, socialized and generally hung out while letting it all hang out literally. A wrap was for the head, not the body. Women walked from shower to toilet to locker to steam with nary a stitch on. Those who covered themselves were looked at sideways as if to say, "what's with you, lady."Modesty and coverup was necessary in front of men but not for women whose physical similarities gave them common enough ground not to worry.
But this is the South. I asked "why cover up" and was told, that was modest. So modesty is defined differently in the spa in Louisiana, much like my mother told me to be when I was very little and only women were around. I was told to be modest and cover up. That was Oregon in the late 1940's, but things may have changed. What is modesty one place may be outrageous in another.
On the Costal Del Sol, where I have traveled, I have seen many women remove their bra tops on the beach and at the pool so the sun kisses the nipples as well as the belly, and it doesn't cause consternation. The same thing occurs on the beaches of France. Travelers extol
the wonders of that. But take a bra off with breasts and belly exposed on a beach in Florida, and folks will get stares and maybe a frown or more from police, even though the smallest bikinis
may well be allowed.
women who wouldn't take their tops off anywhere in public will do so comfortably and take their bottoms off as well before getting into a bath where whole families parade entirely nude, males and females. Asian women have been thought of as particularly modest by many, but it's time and circumstance that makes all the difference like everywhere else.
Perhaps all of this cements that old saying about Rome and what to do which is to watch, listen and don't run naked anywhere unless you have permission.