In America, we mostly know one kind of toilet: the one that flushes our business down to never-never land. But other parts of the world don’t find such an appliance to be the only necessity in the restroom. That’s where a bidet comes in.
But what is a bidet?
According to Bidet.org (yes, there’s a site dedicated to this plumbing fixture), “The bidet is often a basin that is situated close to the toilet in the bathroom, and it is used to clean yourself after using the toilet or when you need to freshen up or wash your genitals and anal area.”
If you’ve traveled outside of the U.S., particularly to South Korea, Japan, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, Turkey, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela, Lebanon, India, and Pakistan, you’ve likely come across a bidet. Why they haven’t quite caught on back home is an interesting story.
The bidet was born in France in the 1600s. Rooted in the French word for “pony,” the term is loosely related to having to straddle the basin. The name is more popularly associated with royalty using it to clean up after a ride.
By World War II, American troops stationed in Europe became well acquainted with a bidet, especially when GIs visiting bordellos came across them in the bathrooms. Soon, Americans were associating these basins with sex work, which did not help increase the bidet’s popularity.
Hygienic improvements in America didn’t seem to take into consideration the bidet, which, according to research, can help heal irritations including rashes and hemorrhoids. In 1964, the American Bidet Company attempted to make the bidet happen, combining the toilet seat with a spritzing function. Of the “Sitzbath,” the company’s founder Arnold Cohen said: “I installed thousands of my seats all over the suburbs of New York … but advertising was a next-to-impossible challenge. Nobody wants to hear about Tushy Washing 101.”
Instead, America has preferred wet wipes to get the job done, regardless of the fact that they damage sewer systems. Meanwhile, the United States spends more than $6 billion a year on toilet tissue. It seems installing a bidet, which can cost you just $49 at Bidet.org, would be a safer bet for your bank account and the environment.
To use a bidet, should you encounter one, you’re going to straddle it, facing its water controls. You can face away from them, like a toilet, but it’s typically easier to control the temperature and flow of the water by facing the controls. You can also face one way or another depending on your cleansing focus (front or back).
Locate the “wash” button on the bidet’s remote control, which is typically mounted on the wall next to the toilet. A nozzle will appear for you to use. Simply press the “stop” button when finished. There may be a “dry” button, otherwise, pat yourself dry with toilet paper. After getting off the bidet, be sure to run the jets at very low pressure for a few seconds to clean out the basin. Too much information? Sorry.
Perhaps it’s time to stop wondering, “what is a bidet?” and start using one!