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The Traveller's Magazine
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Bathing rituals and customs vary from country to country but there are three cultures that really know how to do it right. From Turkish hamams and steam houses to outdoor Finnish saunas and Japanese bath houses… you’ll not only come out squeaky clean but with a better understanding of their distinct cultures.

Turkish hamams

Turkish hamam

Bathing traditions in Turkey go back centuries having been introduced by the Asian Turks as well as Roman cultures. Throughout history and today hamams are not only places to relax, but to socialise. For women, celebrating weddings and births at the hamam is only natural. Turkish-style hamams can be found all over Turkey, in Morocco and parts of Europe, especially in southern Spain and Hungary.

Upon arrival the clerk should provide you with a pair of sandals or slippers and a small towel. Men should wear the towel at all times but women often go fully nude (the baths are segregated). Enter the hamam and lie down on a hot marble slab in the warming room. Once you’re nice and sweaty an attendant will gesture you to come for a massage with a rough glove and a full body wash. Rinse off and wash your hair, after that head to the cooling room to lie down and enjoy a cup of tea.

Japanese bath houses

Japan bath house

Japanese bath houses look a lot like temples from the outside and in a way, they are. Sentō or onsen, as they are called in Japanese, are sacred ground which locals consider essential for strengthening friendships and family bonds. They are a common meeting place for locals of all classes and generations. As soon as you enter, remove your shoes and store your belongings in the lockers. Grab a small stool and a bucket and take a shower before entering the baths. Fill the bucket with water from the tap and rinse off. Then you can enter the tubs and soak. In many bath houses there are different tubs set at different temperatures. It’s not recommended to use any soap in the tub. If you want to wash with soap, make sure you rinse off before betting back in.

While many Japanese understand that foreigners don’t know the ins and outs of public bathing, there are a few things to keep in mind if you don’t want to offend your gracious hosts. Bring your own towel, soap, shampoo, wash cloth and pumice stone or you can buy them from the attendants. Always wash before bathing and never bring your soap into the tub with you.

Finnish saunas

Finnish sauna

Seen all over Scandinavia, saunas have a special place in the hearts of any northerner. These hot wooden huts are essential in Finnish culture. After all, it’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity and most Finns will hit the sauna at least once a week. In ancient times, religious and healing ceremonies took place inside these hot houses but today they’re used by practically everyone to cleanse and remove any toxins in the body. They’re also the perfect place to nail a business deal, secure friendships and catch-up with family members.

Finns generally think that wearing a swim suit in the sauna is a no-no, instead a small towel is wrapped around the waist but if you want the real Finnish experience, go naked. Stay in for about 10 minutes and then shower in cold water (or jump into the lake) right after. Rinse and repeat as many times as you like.

Have you ever experienced any of these bathing rituals? Which are your favourite?

Imgs: thomaswanhoff, Jean-David & Anne-Laure, David Ooms, MiikaS / Flickr cc.

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