Years ago, when my Spanish nephew was still young enough to be upset about such things, he returned home from school one day very offended because someone had said that the English were dirty because we don't shower every day. As a rule he did not identify with the English very much at that time, preferring to ignore or even deny his mother's Englishness, but on this occasion the remark was insulting to his mother and insults to mothers cannot be ignored.
Whenever I hear stuff like that or about how backward the English are because so many of our bathrooms do not have mixer taps, I remind myself that there was a time, well after the period of outdoor toilets and no bathrooms in the UK, when a large number of houses in Spain still didn't have running water. Then everything became very modern and civilised very quickly.
Having said that, I know of a restaurant in Vigo where you had to ask for the key to the ladies' toilets until last year when they moved to new premises. It quite took me back to my first trip to Spain in 1968.
Getting back to the English and their showering, some of us do shower every day. My sister's reply to her son's experience of being offended on her behalf was, "Well, maybe we don't shower every day but we do have a good wash!"
I was reminded of this the other day when I came across an article about how unnecessary it is to shower every day. Indeed, said the article, it is very bad for the environment, as well as for people, to shower every day. Here's part of his justification:
"The average 10-minute shower uses 60 litres of water. A power shower uses three times that and a bath about 80 litres. So a family of four each having a daily 10-minute power shower (I know that is a very conservative estimate for some teenagers) will consume a staggering 0.25m litres of water every year. The annual average cost for electricity for four 10-minute showers per day would be up to about £400, or £1,200 if a power shower is involved. Even worse, the power-shower family would be emitting a staggering 3.5 tonnes of CO2. As we can afford only one tonne of carbon emissions per person – for everything from food to transport – if we are to keep global temperatures below the critical 2C threshold, this would consume nearly all of the family’s carbon budget."
And there I was, accepting the argument that having a shower uses far less water than having a bath and now he tells me that my shower uses 75% of the water a bath would use. Of course, that depends on the size and depth of your bath and how long you spend in the shower. It is possible to get clean in under ten minutes.
The writer reminisced about his childhood, when it was normal to bathe once a week and nobody had excessive body odour as a result. He says he has reverted to weekly showers and what he refers to as a "daily sink wash". But I remember the advertisements for deodorant from that time, advertisements that featured someone, meant to be a friend, approaching another and whispering in his/her ear, "B.O!", in one of those penetrating hissing whispers, and with the letters elongated. That must have been the beginning of the campaign to make us all cleaner and fresher.
The writer went on about the harmful effects on our skin of the overuse of soaps and shower gels. Some of this is undoubtedly true; why else the successful promotion of so many post-shower body lotions? Indeed, I have often wondered at the irony of washing ourselves clean under the shower only to slather ourselves with other gunk before leaving the bathroom. Except that I quite like the lotions and potions.
And then there is shampoo, another product that we overuse, according to this Donnachadh McArthy. Our hair, like our skin, has natural cleansing processes. We don't actually need to use shampoo, which dries out the scalp and makes it work hard to produce more oil, sometimes unsuccessfully: hence dandruff and itchy scalp. No, we should just wash it with water. I knew a young lady who did this. She had lovely long, flowing, curly red hair which she had not shampooed for several years by the time I knew her. She said that the first few weeks had been difficult as her hair and scalp adjusted to the new regime but, once that was over, she did not regret the decision at all. Ah, the bravery of youth! She probably saved a fortune in hair products as well.
All this talk of showering and shampooing is making me feel hot and sticky. Time to go and waste some water again!