A former boyfriend told me this probably once a week for the six months we dated. He couldn’t understand (and was actually distressed about) the fact that I don’t always shower every day. Growing up in the Bahamas, water was rationed, so it wasn’t always possible to take a complete bath or shower each day, especially in a large family with only one bathroom. To ensure that tourists had plenty of water (because who would want to stay in a hotel without running water 24/7?), residents only got running water during specified times of the day. During that time, we would bathe, wash dishes and clothes, and fill the tub so there was water to flush the toilet.
Daddy always bathed first since he had to get ready for work at the hotel. He was fastidious about looking proper because he had been educated at Grosvenor House in London. The rest of us, Mummy, three brothers, two sisters, and me, took turns having a ‘proper’ bath. On the other days we just had a sponge bath. We were as clean as anyone else in any other part of the English Commonwealth. (And to this day, Mummy still won’t take a shower with the water running the whole time!) We didn’t think anything was weird – it was just the reality we lived with.
In Brasil I never had this problem. Water was plentiful, although not very hot. (The weather gets COLD during winter in the south!) My classmates wore the same clothes several times before they were considered dirty enough to be washed. Most people still washed by hand (a washing machine was considered a luxury), so they didn’t want to waste the effort it took to wash the clothes until it was necessary. Also, they explained that excessive washing wears out the clothes, and unlike in the US, people didn’t have several pairs of jeans. That made a lot of sense to me. If I wear something for a short time, why not just hang it up and wear it again before washing it? Did it really get that dirty while I sat in a movie theatre? Not really. Weird? No, it was simply how we lived in that culture.
In Japan, the entire family uses the same bath water in the ofuro. My first month in Japan, I lived with my boss Nakayama-san and his wife. He bathed first, his wife was next, and I was last (the baby had her own little tub). Since we showered first to get the dirt off, soaking in the ofuro was relaxing and a great way to warm up during the Winter in an unheated house. (I’m just glad I wasn’t invited to one of the public baths!) In the morning, the still warm tub water (they put a cover on top to hold in the heat) was diverted into the washing machine to do the laundry. Weird? The Japanese have been bathing together in ofuros for centuries.
My Japanese bathroom: ofuro and shower.
Why did my mono-cultural boyfriend feel so uncomfortable? I accepted his weirdness of taking a minimum of two showers each day. Just because my way was different than his way (the only way he knew) he viewed my otherness as ‘weird’. Now we know that it’s more eco-friendly to bathe with less water and not use so much water for laundry. I guess I was just ahead of the times!