The Nice Thing About Strangers

Creative Non-Fiction Short Stories. :) Travel, Oldsters, Love, and Compassion.

The Hamam Opt-Out. Istanbul.

Cağaloğlu Hamam, Istanbul hamamBecause the idea of sitting in a hot room and being scrubbed by a stranger sounds more like Dante than vacation, I’m parked in the waiting room of the Turkish bath. It is packed with recently exfoliated tourists. Male employees stand behind a fortress of towels. The waiting room floor is marble and coated in rugs that remind one of the American Southwest.  These are functional, not related to the ornate options for sale at every neighboring shop. The air smells like soap, or occasionally wafts of oily meat blowing in from across the alley.

Men waddle through in towels with red and white checkered patterns, like tablecloths for picnics.  Women are directed to a generally private side of the building, but men are made to wander through, gripping the cloth around their waist in direct correlation to their personal and cultural feelings about exposure.

There is a man whose job is to say to male customers–after they have paid–“Yes, welcome! Upstairs, yes,”  He is extremely gifted at folding towels. “Yes yes, upstairs.” A Turkish tour guide with a pack from his tour stands by the towel artist while his group moves as directed. The tour guide looks like a cross between John Cusack and someone scrawnier who speaks Japanese.

The towel artist sends someone toward me, someone who leans over my shoulder, over my notebook. Then he laughs, heads back to the quick-folds and the leaning employees. They thought I was sketching, drawing, perhaps. They wanted to see what I was seeing.

–Istanbul, Turkey.

Istanbul, Turkey, sultan

12 comments on “The Hamam Opt-Out. Istanbul.

  1. lisarpetty
    November 2, 2013

    I would never go to a Turkish bath. I’d be right there in the waiting room with you.

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      November 2, 2013

      My friend went in and she said it was a nice thing to try, but I wasn’t going to budge. I had a facial once where she started with steam and I thought I was drowning. 😀

  2. BlondeBrunetteTravel
    November 2, 2013

    You made a very wise decision! My sister and I signed up for Turkish baths but we had failed to ask a lot of pertinent questions! I blogged about it last year and if you read the post you’ll be eternally grateful that you skipped the experience!

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      November 2, 2013

      🙂 Thank you for sharing your story. I agree. i think it was a smart choice. Even when I lived there, I never felt tempted to try a Hamam.

      I’ll be following your blog. I see that you have some Iceland posts. It looks like we may have covered some of the same parts of the globe (though my treks are about 1/10th of yours). I look forward to reading about your experiences.

  3. Ah, but it’s an experience you’ll never forget! Oh well, each to their own 🙂

  4. gardenpinks
    November 2, 2013

    Great blog, thoroughly enjoyed it and am now a follower 🙂 Thanks for visiting my blog 🙂

  5. Steven Wordsmith Lincoln
    November 3, 2013

    I love how your observations are so often observed with curiosity as well.

  6. Lol! A long way from our cultural fashion! Enjoying reading your posts…well done!

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      January 16, 2014

      Hi Don,
      Yes, I should say it was! A good friend had no fear of going in, but for me it was quite unique just to sit and watch things unfold. Thank you for reading the blog! I appreciate it.
      All my best,

  7. one foot in Europe
    January 18, 2014

    I’m there with ya… I don’t get things like that, I will never step foot in a sauna either sweaty, uncomfortableness. And I don’t like strangers touching me!
    I love your blog by the way, I thought I was following you before, but now it’s telling me to follow. Very strange. I have to use the wordpress app for android due to lack
    of functioning laptop and it does very strange things. To my twitter too. Touch screens aren’t for me.

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      January 20, 2014

      🙂 I’m also nervous about heat, awkwardness, and strangers touching me!
      Thanks for the follow. I am hoping to head back to Turkey this year, so I’ll be thinking of you and your language endeavors! 🙂 Kolay gelsin!

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