Last fall when my mom and I visited Italy, all our hotels had bathrooms with a tub, sink, toilet, and bidet, like this one in Venice:
Each time we arrived at a new hotel, we joked that we would use the thing at this particular place. Of course we never even tried. But I’ve mean meaning to figure out what a bidet is really for, and what it’s doing in the modern European bathroom.
My initial feeling of seeing a bidet in a bathroom really runs sort of like this in my head: What the hell is that ugly thing for, and why does it have to be in my bathroom, opening its ugly belly for all of us to see right in? Gross!
Yes, I’m a provincial American and I’m betraying my naivete about other cultures and places. But I’m trying to improve on that, which is one of the reasons I was in Italy in the first place. Still, after almost 2 weeks there, I still didn’t know what the stupid thing was sitting my bathroom for. Today I looked it up. Here’s the scoop:
A bidet is for cleaning your nether regions. Any or all parts and pieces that you want to get clean! After using the restroom (or whenever you want, apparently), you take off your pants, you stand over the bidet—no, you don’t sit on it, although you straddle it and stand over it, facing either way) and the bidet squirts water onto you, hot or cold or any temperature you like, isn’t that nice. Then you dry off (there’s usually a towel hanging by the bidet — I hope they keep these separate from the hand towels, but I really don’t know), hang up the towel, put on your pants, and you’re all nice and clean. (Some bidets, but not most, also have a blow dryer so you don’t have to use a towel.) May I suggest a clean pair of underwear to accompany your newly cleaned bum?
So, that’s the “what” of the bidet. Now the question is, why?
Why would I need to clean my private parts in a special sink on the floor, if I took a shower that morning and will also take a shower that night?
which leads me to,
Don’t people with bidets bathe every day?
which leads me to,
Is a bidet a “holdover” from older days when people did not bathe regularly, but still wanted clean private parts?
Is a bidet a newer invention, a gadget that pampers modern people who just want to be clean, clean, clean all day by freshing up their private parts every few hours?
Shouldn’t there be some sort of underarm cleaning gadget in hotel rooms, too, and shouldn’t these hygiene-loving bidet users also put some complimentary deodorant in their rooms, too? I mean, Europe can be a really stinky place as you regularly run across people who clearly don’t use deodorant. And believe me, they aren’t American or Asian tourists, they’re Europeans.
I’m getting off topic (and have a great story about some smelly Germans) so let me get back to a few other things I learned about bidets:
They were invented by the French in the late 1600s. Heh, heh, go figure!
A couple of clues from Wikipedia:
Bidets are common bathroom fixtures in many southern European countries, especially Italy, where they are found in 95% of households. (Great, another fixture to clean in my bathroom!)
Bidets once served as a practical way for couples to prepare themselves before sex, as well as to rinse themselves afterwards. OK, so here’s something possibly supporting my theory that a bidet was used instead of a shower. Why clean your entire body when you only really “need” to clean one part?
In most of North America, there is a built-in avoidance of bidets. It comes somewhat from the British Isles’ slow acceptance of bidets as well as cultural norms. [Blogger’s note: C’mon, buddy, Americans’ lifestyles are not influenced by the British anymore. It was quite a long time ago that we became independent, and until very recently, the world has been pretty big!] However, that resistance is slowly fading. As the world becomes smaller in terms of communication and travel time, more people are using bidets and seeing their benefits. –See, I still don’t really understand the benefits. Can’t I just take a shower, not splash up my entire bathroom floor by using a bidet, and not keep a disgusting little bidet towel hanging next to it on a hook?
An occasion notion on websites that sell bidets, is that using a bidet (maybe even one with a dryer) is more hygienic than using toilet paper. It’s hard to argue with that because I’ve never used one, but don’t most people wipe down with a towel after using the bidet, anyway?
Writing this all down has left me only more convinced: I just don’t think I need a bidet. I take two showers a day, so I’m reasonably clean all over. I’m not sure I could ever get over the “gross factor” of a bidet, either. But at least I know the what and the why. Sort of.