Since the beginning of the COVID-19 emergency in the USA one item has been flying off the store shelves: toilet paper! There are theories about why, but I don’t want to delve into those today. Instead, I’ve been thinking about how this isn’t an issue in Italy. People have been waiting patiently in line (a first for Italians) to purchase food they’ll need and spending the rest of their time at home. They’re not concerned with how much toilet paper they have because 97% of households have at least one bidet, no matter how small the living space.
We are in the middle of unprecedented times when a majority of people in the USA and other places around the world are staying at home. As I write this I am currently with family in Massachusetts. I’m enjoying this time to get to know my nieces while their parents work on the front lines in hospitals and I work on Tourissimo from the couch. While this time with family is invaluable I am looking forward to getting back to my home in Italy, and not just because we have a well-stocked wine cellar there! We also have a bidet.
WHAT IS A BIDET?
A bidet is used to clean oneself after using the toilet.
If you’ve traveled in parts of Europe (particularly Spain or Italy), you’ve probably seen a bidet. On first glance it may look like a toilet without the lid. Upon further inspection you may notice the faucet and perhaps a towel hanging nearby that is too low to be a hand towel. In many Italian homes and hotels, you might also see a small bottle or bar of soap.
HOW DO YOU USE A BIDET?
I first encountered a bidet when I arrived for a study abroad program in Spain in 2005. It was in my hotel room during orientation, and I was immediately curious. I’ll spare you the details of my first few attempts, but I imagine what I went through is similar to other Americans encountering one for the first time with no prior knowledge.
If you’ve never used a bidet but are planning a trip to Italy in the near future, maybe you want to try it without preparation and see what happens.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE BIDET?
While the bidet is most popular today in Italy, it actually began in France in the late 17th century. The exact origins are unknown, but it is thought to have been invented by furniture makers for the aristocracy. The first designs looked like ornamental ottomans and were made up of ceramic basins inset in wooden furniture with short legs. Many had wicker or leather seat covers. They were kept in the bedroom along with the chamber pot.
The word bidet in old French is loosely translated to mean pony. This name was most likely given because of how you straddle the device during use.
Long before the French version, basins of water for cleaning your nether regions were popular in Asia and the Middle East. People would scoop the water with their hands to wash themselves off.
As indoor plumbing became more prevalent, the bidet became available to the general public.
WHY ISN’T THE BIDET POPULAR IN THE USA?
Since WWII when American soldiers encountered bidets during visits to bordellos in France, they have been associated with sex and therefore are taboo in American culture.
Perhaps after our experience with toilet paper shortages while in quarantine, Americans perception of the bidet will change.
WHAT ELSE CAN A BIDET BE USED FOR?
Aside from its intended use, I’ve found it comes in handy for some other tasks. I often wash my feet in it, especially in the summer after walking around outside in sandals. It’s perfect for hand washing delicate items. And of course, while on a bike tour with Tourissimo, you can wash your cycling gear in it.