During my first year in Italy, I lived in my in-law’s beautiful home. Across the hall from the bedroom was a big bathroom with a double sink, a tub, a toilet, enough space to do a cartwheel and a bidet. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen one, but when I went to that bathroom and first looked at it I thought “oh THAT thing.”
Until I got settled in Italy, I always had a challenging relationship with the bidet. On one hand, I was intrigued and curious to try it and on the other hand, it made me feel uncomfortable.
Eventually, the curiosity built up and I started an inner dialogue with myself every time I went to the bathroom:
“Should I try it?”
“But, how do you position…?”
“No, I don’t want to ASK how to use it…”
“should I look it up on the internet?”
“Weird. What if someone catches you looking up bidets?”
Then one evening, I was brushing my teeth and my husband came in to do the same. I finished first, grabbed a towel and wiped my mouth. My husband stopped brushing, stared and asked me, “do you always use that towel?”
“why?”, I asked.
“Because that towel is for the bidet.”
JESUS! CHRIST! DAAAAAHHHHH!!! I just wiped my face with a towel for private parts.
I was kind of annoyed at myself because I could have avoided the whole embarrassing situation if I had just been informed on proper bidet protocol. I decided to get over my irrational fear and got some bidet 101 education.
Getting over my qualms about the bidet was made easier by the fact that 97% of homes in Italy have a bidet and ALL Italians use them, accept them as normal and generally believe they are a good thing to use. In reality, it is the best way to “stay fresh.” Let’s say you take a morning shower and then 2 hours later you have to use the bathroom. Are you really going to take another shower to freshen up one part of your body? Of course not! That’s why the bidet is so practical and necessary.
Most parts of Europe have bidets with the exception of Northern Europe. Parts of South America, Asia and the Middle East are known to have them as well. Who uses them the most? ITALIANS. However, the word “bidet” isn’t Italian, but rather French.
The bidet was invented around the 1700’s in France and means “stout pony” because you straddle it like a small pony. That makes me laugh. They haven’t changed much since the 1700’s except in Japan where the Japanese have taken bidets to a whole new level with seat warmers, water settings and air dryers.
NO BIDETS IN NORTH AMERICA
In North America, it is rare to find a bidet in someone’s house. Why is it so hard for North Americans to adopt?
One theory claims that during World War 2, the English discovered the bidet in French brothels and it was quickly thought of as something dirty.
Another theory says it is hard for North Americans to adopt because of conservatism. This is easier for me to believe. A lot of the cultural differences I’ve found revolve around the fact that Italians are so much more comfortable with their bodies and their functions whereas North Americans are embarrassed to talk about it or find it offensive.
If you think about it, in this case, the cultural difference lies in admitting whether you touched yourself or not. Without the bidet, everyone knows that you used toilet paper — The toilet paper is the barrier between you and your private parts. With the bidet, everybody knows that you touched yourself. I don’t think most North Americans are ready to admit that they touch themselves in that context. It’s that simple.
Things are changing though. In the last 10 years, sales for them in luxury homes have been going up in North America .
Anyway, I hope you got a good laugh out of my embarrassing story. Mostly, I hope that you will learn from my story so that the next time you travel abroad and find yourself staring at a bidet, whether you use it or not, you will remember me wiping my face with the wrong towel and remember my bidet advice:
- How do you use a bidet? check out this site for a detailed explanation
- Test the waters! Some come out like geysers so watch out where the water comes out of and check the water pressure to avoid an unwanted enema.
- Pants on or pants off? Depends which way you face!
- Work the suds! Yes, there is special soap for your privates and Italians have so many to choose from!
- Use your own bidet towel to dry off unless you’re in Japan and you have a dryer
- wash your hands
- Identify the correct towel to dry your hands!
About the special soap, Italians have the private parts soap down to a science. Check back next week on my post about the most publicized one: Chilly! Their slogan goes, “nel mio intimo, c’è Chilly” – There’s Chilly in my underwear.