Or how to avoid embarrassment when naked in a foreign country…
This week we’ve discovered the multiple souks, the ancient ruins and even the camel-wrestling tournaments that Turkey has built its reputation upon (please see Purple Hearts… Bodrum for more on that). However, any mention of Turkey would be incomplete without some acknowledgment that it is also the European capital of overly-aggressive exfoliation. You cannot visit Turkey without adding a Hammam to your itinerary. And by that I mean a Turkish bath, not a theatrical Irish mother. In fact, you may say that life itself is never truly fulfilled until you’ve had a good ol’ scrub-down from a hairy, half-naked Turk!
The problem then lies in knowing what exactly to expect. A quick Google search churns up dozens of stories of awkward moments, frightened old ladies and slapped cheeks (n.b. the Turks’, not the customers’). Take this American woman in a bath in Istanbul, for example: “Of all the women in the room — at least 40 — I was the sole person wearing a bra. I originally thought keeping on my bra would help me blend in and be more comfortable, but it was immediately apparent that it did nothing but make me awkwardly stand out. I shamefully slithered back to the locker room and succumbed to Turkish tradition as I shed my black brassiere and my modesty, and I reentered the room full of bare breasts.”Another women’s account from a PR review followed suit: “With three of us to be scrubbed down and only one lady to wash us, everything had to be done in turn. This meant the other two women either played a limited game of ‘I spy’ with the tiled interior of the Hammam or watched the third member of our group being covered in black soap, washed down and then scrubbed vigorously with an abrasive pad while lying down completely naked on the floor.”
Forget Hammer Horror – this is Hammam Horror. The tales of embarrassment are vast and often off-putting and its common to leave feeling like a castrated house pet. However with this Purple Travel guide to Hammam, you’ll know what to expect and can avoid all those red-faced moments:
1) Yo mamma’s so old, when she was young, the Dead Sea was only sick.
First of all; knowing which Hammam to go to is half the battle. In Turkish, cockroach literally translates to ‘hamam insect’, so you’ll want to avoid the grimy ones. The most famous is Çemberlitaş Hamamı in Istanbul, built in 1584, but as one of the older establishments, it’s relatively pricey. We recommend Mihrimah Bath in Edirnekapi, Oruculer bath next to the grand bazaar or Kadirga bath, not far from the little Hagia Sophia.
2) Yo Hammam’s so stupid, she cooked her own complimentary breakfast.
Knowing some Hammam etiquette is vital – take swimwear with you to be prepared. More often than not, the bath will state a ‘dress code’, but it’s best to stand on the side of caution. And although most people do go naked, uncrossing your legs like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct is not advised. On the contrary, avoid lap-eye contact with the other bathers.
3) Yo Hammam’s so hairy, Bigfoot is taking her picture.
Before you go, make sure you’ve had a pre-preen. And by this I mean a ‘tidy-up’, unless you’re sure you won’t be offended when you are stared at and offered a wax. Men may not mind this, but women – the Turks are not afraid to tell you if you’re a little unkempt, so wack out the Veet or things may get a little awkward.
4) Yo Hammam’s so greasy she used bacon as a band-aid.
Swallow your pride, it’s time for the massage. Ladies – don’t go in there expecting some sort of relaxing spa treatment with twinkling candles and white-coated beauty technicians; the Turks will kick your ass. And guys – if this whole endeavor seems homoerotic, think happy thoughts; it is as masculine and normal as a post P.E. communal shower.
5) Yo Hammam’s so dirty she has to creep up on bathwater.
After the fifteen minute massage, let the cleaning commence. Most of this part will be later blanked out and stored in that part of your subconscious that’s usually reserved for gynecology visits and waiting to pay in Ann Summers. You’ll be maneuvered this way and that, spun around until you can’t stand straight, soaped up like the dirty cocker spaniel and then rinsed down with bowls of hot water. When you come back around, it’s off to the shampoo station for a final, neck-cracking rinse. It’s at this point that you may be solicited for a tip, but this is not necessary and if it comes down to it, just shrug your shoulders and pat your pocket-free hips with a look that says ‘sorry, I would, but I had nowhere to put my change.’
To wrap things up, let’s be blunt about it. It’s clear that youwon’t feel like an adult here, and you definitely won’t feel a man. In fact, it’s difficult to even feel like a human being after being stripped, emasculated and cleaned down like a wet dog. However, no two experiences are alike, and women will be pleased to find that the female bath attendants are far more chivalrous than the men. And all things considered, this is just one of those things you have to do if on holiday in Turkey. You don’t want to return home and tell all your family and friends of how you chickened out on the most defining facet of traditional Turkish culture. So suck it up and get soapy with the best of them.