When you tell an American you’re taking a bath, they make an awkward face or sound. I don’t blame them; I’m American, too. You take baths when you’re a baby. In fact, you’re “given” a bath. You don’t “take” a bath as a decent adult human being unless you’re (a) getting over a breakup, (b) are a single mom unwinding after a long day of work, (c) are an actress in one of the following films: Helen Hunt in As Good As It Gets, Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County, or Diane Lane in Unfaithful. (These are just the first 3 movie-baths that come to mind. All great films, coincidentally.)
I was reminded of this tonight as I tried to soothe my hamstrings that were sore from raking the lawn this weekend. (So far that’s been the extent of my Hurricane Sandy relief effort. Lots of people are volunteering to actually help people, but my parents both really wanted the lawn raked for some reason, and they were dropping casual complaints about backaches. We all do what we can.)
The English respect the taking of a good bath.
Last October I visited London and stayed with an older British couple I found on Airbnb. I could have chosen a flat with a hip, young host but I’m a homebody and I wanted an authentic British experience.
They were the sweetest people and exceptional hosts who made me feel totally welcome in their cozy and comfortable Hammersmith home, a few tube stops outside central London.They made me fresh porridge every morning, along with this insanely heavy bread that tasted like a brick but I enjoyed its existence because it felt really “British”.
My “host mum” was this adorable lady named Alanna who at age 60 discovered a passion for the Alexander Technique and had recently completed instructor training. My first night there we sat at the kitchen table for hours chatting over tea about her studies, her 1st career as a piano teacher (I also used to play), the books we were then reading, our families and traveling. She said that she and her husband decided to become hosts as a way to experience “travel” inside their own home. Which is brilliant, and inspiring.
And their home had just one bathroom. And the bathroom had just a bath. No shower. Did I mention I was sharing the house with a couple in their late 60’s/70’s?
I tried to act normal (which is really, really hard for me) and not make my very gracious English hostess feel uncomfortable. My “host mum” was sensitive to this being out of the ordinary for an American and said, “This is really a traditional English house!” Then I noticed a grayish section in the middle of the otherwise white tub, where the enamel had been worn out. Evidence, of years and years of butts sitting on it.
I told myself: You wanted authentic? Go with it.
And I did. I took baths in their bath tub. And yes, it was a little awkward, taking a bath while they’d be downstairs in the kitchen, at night when the house was quiet. I’d wonder if they were also thinking about me at the same time I was thinking about them. You know what? I like to think that I contributed a little bit to the butt spot.
So when I am mocked by my fellow Americans for enjoying baths, I say: not only are you missing out on some simple relaxation, you don’t have the experience of doing so in a relative stranger’s worn-out bathtub, and feeling comfortable enough to not really mind.