The Fabulous Bidet

A Fabulous Bidet. Photo by Trisha

Americans often wonder about the extra item found in many European bathrooms. It looks like a hybrid between a sink and a toilet, but it is not either. It is the dearly-beloved bidet.

Italians love their bidets and think Americans are coarse, uncouth and dirty creatures for not using them. Americans can barely look at a bidet without laughing.

Americans say bidets waste water, Italians say Americans waste toilet paper. Oh Good Lord, it is all so silly. The world will not be deforested by Americans using too much toilet paper and the seas will not go dry because of Europeans using the bidet too often. All that is required is moderation.

Once, while planning a ski vacation in the Italian Alps with a group of mamma friends, one friend suggested a charming hotel and another said, “No, no we can’t go there. I was there last year, they don’t have bidets in the bathrooms!” Later I confided to my husband, “I don’t know about her, but I am going to the alps to ski, not to sit on the bidet.” He thought that my comment was snide, inappropriate and very American.

But I must say, now that I have been living with bidets for the past 18 years, they are absolutely fabulous, especially when you have kids. A bidet can be useful for so many things, besides the obvious. It makes a great baby bath. Lots of people I know use it to wash their feet. You can rinse out dirty baby clothes in it, or hand-wash your own. It is awfully handy for a sponge-bath and my daughters have even used it for brushing their teeth when there is a rush on the bathroom sink in the morning before school.

Some Italians even have other uses. I was once at a cocktail party chatting in a group and somehow the “bidet” question came up. A middle-aged professor piped up, “In my opinion the bidet was invented for the siesta-tresca. It is the perfect solution.” That was a bit of a conversation stopper. Let me explain. Until recently, Italians took a long afternoon siesta. Stores would close down from 1pm to 5pm and families would go home to eat together and take a rest. “Tresca” is an Italian word meaning “little fling” or “love affair”. (Dictionary translation: Illicit Amorous Relationship). Back in the 60s or 70s Italian men would have lunch with their family then maybe stop in to see their lover for the siesta-tresca before going back to work. The bidet was used for a quick wash-up after the siesta-tresca, I suppose.

A little background here. According to my less-than-thorough investigation, Bidets were a French invention, and the word Bidet actually comes from the old French “to trot” (Oh Good Grief, what were those funny Frenchmen doing on their bidets?). The French began using bidets back in the 1700s, the Italians were not far behind. If you think about it, bidets must have made a lot of sense back them. There were no showers and to fill the bathtub with hot water was hard work. First one had to heat the water, then carry buckets to the tub.

Baths and showers are easier now, but the bidet is oh-so-handy.

So, all you American readers, it is time for us all to get over our hostility towards that unassuming little porcelain object in the corner of bathroom, it is the FABULOUS BIDET.

Post in: Italiano

18 Comments

  1. Avatar
    jwthomas
    2011/11/18

    You forgot that it’s great for pets who need a drink.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2011/11/18

      Oh Gosh, How could I forget that? You can tell I don’t own a dog or a cat!

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    AdriBarr
    2011/11/18

    I am so enjoying your site. Thanks go to Elizabeth Minchilli for the link. Thanks for another “spot on” post. Brava!

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Alan
    2011/11/18

    In recent years ‘conventional’ Western toilets have gained popularity over the ‘foot-print on the floor’ squat types here in Turkey. The squats always had a little water jug beside a tap/faucet for ablutions. The modern style loo has a little jet at the back of the pan and there is nothing more refreshing on a hot summer’s day than to turn on the tap and enjoy a cool, cleansing blast ‘up the jacksie!’

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2011/11/18

      That’s Hilarious Alan! I think the footprint on the floor squat types used in Turkey are worth a blog post on their own. They are definitely an experience, and probably more hygienic than our sit-on-the-seat types. I will leave that post to you!!

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    Gwen Thomas
    2011/11/18

    So yes, I am American, but when we moved into an apartment in Central America with a lovely looking bidet, and thought we should try it out, it was truly disgusting. The stuff that flushed through, probably after lots of use and not such good cleaning, made me swear never to get too close to one. No offense to all you Europeans! It seems to me cleanliness is critical if one is to use bidets!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2011/11/18

      Hmmm, that does sound gross. A proper bidet should not have anything “flushing through” it should just be like a low-down sink.

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    Barbara Landi
    2011/11/19

    I think Europeans simply don’t shower often or daily as Americans do. They find us terribly water wasteful because our shower is so important to us. The bidet replaces the need for frequent showers since you can clean your nether regions with a minimum of water, and who cares about the rest.
    RE use of toilet paper, when I was in Italy in 1969, I remember many places simply had torn pieces of newspaper nailed to the wall next to the toilet. That was over 40 years ago, but I’m sure Europeans are still less paper/water wasteful than Americans.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2011/11/19

      Barbara, thank you for your comment. Interesting point on the newspaper being used as toilet paper. When I first moved to Italy my husband was working at the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry did not have toilet paper in the bathrooms and my husband had to bring his own to keep in the office. He once was quite embarassed when he had to grab the roll for a quick trip to the bathroom and he bumped into some important official in the hall who needed to talk to him. He said he tried to hide the roll of toilet paper behind him, but it was a bit awkward.
      When my daughter started first grade at the Italian public school across the street from where we live, I discovered that Italian schools do not provide toilet paper in the bathrooms, kids have to bring their own.
      So…I can confirm that some public insitutions in Italy still do not have toilet paper, and given all the upcoming austerity measures we are expecting here, they might not have chairs or tables either pretty soon.
      Thanks for following my blog, I really appreciate, and keep your great comments coming! Trisha

      Reply
  6. Avatar
    Pete
    2011/12/20

    Great post! I still don’t really get the bidet, but I agree it’s great for washing feet after a hot day’s walking. As for the siesta-tresca… that’s hilarious! I guess the bidet is very much a bathroom Rorschach test, what you use it for can tell people a lot about you!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2011/12/21

      Thank you Pete!

      Reply
  7. Avatar
    Rebecca
    2012/01/15

    I love the bidets in our Italian hotels. If we had designed our house and had the room we would have had one put in. However I make it a rule to never complain when I’m innitaly because I feel so excited just being there BUT the no toilet paper but no bidet plus no paper towels in the bathroom has pissed me off on a couple of occasions! A couple restaurants without soap or any paper grossed me out and on the 2008 and 2010 trips I noticed there seemed to be a cabby strike on showers. I sound awful! I love Italy’ I don’t get impatient in lines! I love looooooong lunches. I don’t get upset when a museum closes at odd hours, with a shrug am told maybe it’ll reopen that day later. I say hey it’s Italy I’m lucky to be here! But the overripe salami taxis rides were new. For done reason we kept getting them. Ha ha. But the bidets are civilized. The hand towel soap thing seemed a bit wonky … It seems tp works better with it but boy would I love to have one at work… Working with children! It would solve so many problems!!!

    Reply
  8. Avatar
    Mantininka
    2013/02/07

    Hello, that’s a very interesting report about the bidet :) I’m Italian and I can say for sure that we can’t live without it! We take shower daily, and in summer more than once a day. Let’s say that the specific use of the bidet doesn’t not subsitute the shower, never! We use paper then we sit into the bidet. That’s it. There is quite an obsession to be always perfectly clean and perfumed, in every moment of the day. We also use wet wipes when we are not at home. That’s true that in schools and in public places in general you cannot find paper that’s why everybody brings some paper tissues from home.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/02/07

      Thank you for your comment. It is rare that Italians comment on my blog and I am always so pleased when someone does. I guess it is a good thing that Italians are so cleanly and I must say now that I have lived with a bidet for so many years, I am rather fond of it.

      Reply
  9. Avatar
    Laura
    2013/12/16

    This is disgusting….so that’s means that you take a shower EVERY time you go to the toilets? Come on!!! Let’s call it a lack of hygiene..Bye and have a clean day from Italy ;)

    Reply
  10. Avatar
    Alberto
    2014/06/26

    Well the difference is this: if you use toilet paper, you’re not washing, you’re not cleaning. You’re wiping. If you use a bidet, you wash yourself.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/06/27

      Well Alberto, I guess that just about sums it up!! Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  11. Avatar
    ylenia
    2014/07/08

    Hi everyone! I’d like to say that we don’t use bidet to substitute a good shower, but we can`t understand how can people go to the toilet, wipe with some.toilet paper and then just walk away.. This is not really hygenic, you have not cleaned yourself! You need tp wash away all the dirty from that side of your body I thinkThat’s all :) thanks anyway for this topic! Greetings from Italy!

    Reply

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