The Four O’Clock Shower: Rituals, Habits, and Hygiene

Remember that annoying kid who refused to take a shower because they didn’t like it? Who would show up at school, completely oblivious to their greasy hair, having ignored their parents’ pleas and cries of anguish?

Yep, that used to be me. I could not stand to take a shower. One memorable summer, through a lucky (for me) or unlucky (for anyone who had to smell me) twist of fate where I wound up spending three days each with my parents and two sets of grandparents, I managed to dodge the tub for nine days straight. Eventually I grew out of this aversion to bathing. Mostly, anyways. Occasionally I just cannot be bothered to drag my tucchus through the shower.

Lately though, I’ve been in Italy. In Italy, having a shower is my favourite part of the day. Right up there with the shower is going to sleep, a joy I’ll be partaking of in just a few minutes, once I’ve got these words down.

In Italy, in July, it is very hot. My ancestry is mostly English, with some other bits thrown in to stave off the inbreeding. Genetically speaking, my body was built to survive on a cold rainy rock in the northern Atlantic Ocean. I’ve got cold covered. What I have trouble with is heat and humidity. (Uh-oh, there I go growing up again. You can tell the grown-ups in the crowd by who’s fighting over the bill and who’s complaining about the humidity.)
There are two very reasonable, rational, sane reasons for me to hate showering. One is my skin, the other is my hair. Neither likes to be washed too often. If washed too often, both will dry out and be unpleasant to deal with, and my skin will become an unholy mess of painful hives and rashes, interspersed with scaly peely bits, as though I’ve got a permanent sunburn. Normally, I shower and wash my hair every two days. I wash the stinky bits in between for the benefit of anyone who has to be near me, but a full shower every day would normally turn me into a hot, itchy, miserable mess. No fun at all.

Not in Italy. In Italy, I shower every day. I still only wash my hair every other day, but it’s tempting to wash it more often. I shower as soon as I get home from camp, because I’m sweaty, I’m smelly, I’m cranky, I’m basically all around miserable company when I first get home from camp, so a shower is just the ticket.

I get in under the hot water and wash all the grime off. Mentally and emotionally as well as physically. Physically, there’s dirt and sweat, chalk, paint, and whatever else I may have spilled on myself (or had someone else spill on me). Mentally, there’s the one kid who just will not be quiet for all my pleading, shouting, begging, bribing, threatening to send to the white book room, and any other method of persuasion I can think of. There’s the tutor who has decided this is her world and we all just live in it, there’s the camp director who, while meaning well, hardly speaks any English and I can hardly communicate with, between my no Italian and his no English. The hot water, the no noise, the few minutes where nobody is asking me what time it is, it all helps.

When I get dressed after my afternoon shower, it’s not into a camp t-shirt. It’s into something I picked out. Something in a colour I like. Something that fits me well. Something that I feel good in. Once I’m out of the shower and dressed, I’m not a camp tutor anymore, I’m Beth again.
This particular habit doesn’t scare my host families too much. I think they’re actually pretty glad I shower as soon as I get home. I would be, if the twenty-something stranger living in my house came home every day dripping with sweat and stinking to high heaven. I can tell that some of my habits weird them out though.

I don’t wear shoes in the house. I never have, really, except when I’m dashing through in between errands and know there isn’t much point in taking my shoes off then putting them back on. In Japan, I wore the slippers my host families supplied me with, because that’s just how it’s done. Here, the only slippers I have are fleecy ones designed for winter. No chance I’m wearing those in 35 degree heat.
My first host family asked me a few times if I was sure I wasn’t cold. Oddly enough, I was sure. They offered to lend me a pair of croc-like shoes to wear in the house if I got cold, but those stayed by the door of my room where they put them. After a long day of running (which I hate) dancing (which I love) and generally making a fool of myself (which is growing on me) it’s a relief to get out of my sneakers and put my bare feet on tile floors. It’s a huge show of self-restraint, I feel, that I don’t lie down on the cool tile floors and take a nap.

At home, a shower in the middle of the day would drive me batty. Here, it’s becoming an imperative part of my daily routine.


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