Bathing with strangers was always seen as a cultural venture. Japan, Finland, Turkey and South Korea have embraced it for centuries. We’ve felt delightfully cultured and enlightened as we bat off the dread of public humiliation and awkward missteps in a tradition foreign to our Australian suburban upbringings. However, we now want a piece of the damp, tepid pie because recently, we have seen a rise in public bathhouses across the country. Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria have opened some high-end communal bathing experiences, and it seems they are thriving. But why now?
We’ve all struggled with loneliness in some shape or form during the pandemic. Even for those of us who ventured through lockdowns with housemates and families - loneliness has come in the shape of desperately wanting to see a less familiar face. We’ve missed even just friendly interactions with strangers as we reach for the same avocado at the supermarket or the gentle nod we give each other when we both have the same obnoxious coffee order at a cafe. These tiny interactions have been tainted with masked faces, which have made brief, friendly encounters riddled with an air of doubt and defensiveness. Is she smiling at me, or giving me a greasy? Is that avocado rightfully hers, or do I have to fight for it? Does he think our matching coffee orders are an adorable coincidence, or does he think I’m copying him? Oh god, I shouldn’t have come out.
All this social confusion and distancing, it seems, has left us desperate for connection, as the restrictions have slowly lifted, our ways of reconnecting with strangers in Australia have been somewhat unconventional for us. Generally speaking, we aren’t accustomed to jumping into an enormous 37-degree bath or sitting buck naked in a sauna with people we’ve never met, but here we are.