As an American, my upbringing was pretty conservative regarding nudity. For this reason I had to experience a local Moroccan Hammam, also for this reason I will still giggle about it like a school child as I write this tip. I mean no disrespect.
I’ll start with sharing a few tips for experiencing a Hammam in Morocco.
A few tips for experiencing a Moroccan Hammam
For a Real Experience You Must Go to a LOCAL Moroccan Hammam
Hotels and resorts offer hammam as well, but many are very westernized and lack authenticity. Look for a more authentic Moroccan Hammam – here’s a few places in Marrakech.
Pay For an Attendant to Wash You Rather Than Washing Yourself
Again, I recommend this for the full experience, but for those that chose to wash themselves, research etiquette first and know that it is common courtesy to offer to scrub the back of the person next to you, so don’t be totally weirded-out if this happens. The favor should be returned.
Bring Shampoo/Conditioner and a Towel
Bring a scrub glove (kiis) if you’re a germ-a-phobe and have issues with the attendant using her own (yes, it has been used on others). They can be purchased at the souks along with the black soap (which is made from the nut of an olive tree) or Rhassoul (clay from the Atlas Mountains). Sometimes these items can be purchased at the hammam or the attendant will supply it.
Leaving Your Bra/Top on Will Make You Look Silly
New culture, new norms. Love your body. Lose the bra.
Full Frontal Nudity Is Offensive in Some Hammams
This is not the case for the hammam I attended, however it is best to play it safe and wear something on bottom.
My Moroccan Hammam Experience
I paid 50 dirham for my hammam (about 5 USD) with an attendant. It is customary to tip her at the end. It was 10 dirham to do it yourself. I walked into a bath house pretty oblivious to what was about to happen to me, aside from a few Australian travel mates regaling me with their experience. All the while sharing glances and giggles while reassuring me, “It will be fine. It’s not that bad.”
I entered what looked like a waiting room full of naked women, just kind of hanging out. Maybe relaxing. Relaxing? Naked? With Strangers? Giggle, giggle, blush, blush.
But remember, go with an open mind. I took my cue and shed the clothes. A rather large, toothless and topless attendant came in to get me. We entered room number two, which is essentially a large shower room with low tiled benches along the walls for sitting and cleaning. After indicating for me to have a seat, she placed a bench in front of me, and filled two buckets of water. She began lathering me with the traditional black soap. Just as it starts to sink in that you’re sitting in a public shower room while a naked woman bathes you, she pulls out the glove and tells you to lie down.
As I lay naked, face down, on a tile floor, she scrubbed me in ways I’ve never been scrubbed. And then I flipped over for a front-side scrub down. It’s not pleasant. It’s awkward. It hurts.
This is not a modest moment of spa treatment. She means business, and while she’s bending and scrubbing, parts of her body are smashed against parts of my body which are wedged somewhere between her and the floor.
Once she finishes the treatment, she flashes a grin and shows me the disgusting dirt, grime, and dead skin on her glove and the floor around me. The remnants of showerless nights after long mountain treks and sweaty dessert camel riding washed down the drain with a community of other strangers’ muck and mire. I was gross…but now I am smooth…incredibly smooth…as the day I was born smooth!
Enter room number three-the hottest room. At this point I had recovered from the initial shock of the experience. Filling my own bucket with hot water (more than two is greedy), I found a seat and rinsed the remaining soap and skin from my red and newly revealed layer.
For the Moroccan women and children, this is an opportunity to get out of the house and visit with friends and gossip about the latest. Was this a comfortable experience for me? I can’t say it was. But travelers must make it a priority to step out of their own cultural comfort zone to get the most out of an experience.
With that said, I’ve had some pretty awkward moments away from home, and sometimes we don’t know when to laugh or when we should bite our cheeks and endure the discomfort to ensure we don’t offend. There were multiple moments during my Moroccan hammam experience when I had to bite my cheeks and try to remove myself from my own cultural judgments. “Oh if my friends could see me now” I thought to myself with a laugh. In the end, travel is about perspective.
So what did I take from the experience, besides incredibly soft skin and a good story to share?
This is my opinion…
If Hammams existed in the U.S, they would only consist of incredibly beautiful women with perfect bodies. Because that is all we have here? Absolutely not. Because the rest of the women would be too ashamed and self-conscious of their body to allow other women to see it.
The Moroccan hammam is a healthy way for children to grow to appreciate and for women to accept their natural bodies. I thought about how uncomfortable American culture is with nudity; however, exploits any opportunity to use sex or an airbrushed model to sell things.
We aren’t conservative about nudity, we are conservative about certain kinds of nudity…real, natural, dare I say unappealing nudity. I’m not saying everyone get naked and hug, but I do believe that exploiting one kind of nudity while shaming another sends a dangerous mixed message. I believe in a natural balance. More and more women are resorting to plastic surgeries, under-eating, or over-eating while American youth continue to dress like the images they see on the billboards. We are hurting ourselves and our children.