An Idiot’s Incomplete Guide to the Bidet

Editor's note: Warning: Inevitable, perhaps obligatory, bathroom humor ahead.

You think you know what they are for and you are probably right but once you check into a European hotel and see one I’m willing to bet you second guess yourself. Right there next to the toilet and despite the lack of room for a shower in the same space your hotel has provided you with the wondrously perplexing contraption: the bidet.

That I am writing on this topic should reveal my ignorance. You may just think I’m downright stupid, a short-sighted American perhaps. The truth is, these little solutions to sanitation are not as straight forward as one may think to someone who has never experienced one (and I use the term “experienced” loosely).

Almost every American I have traveled with has said the same thing: “They’re for washing your vagina … duh!”. Yet once they turn the knob and the water begins to pour out into the basin, an invariable look of confused contemplation crosses their face and their tone of certainty changes.

“Even if it is for washing your vagina, how the hell do you use it comfortably and effectively?”

Toilet and Bidet
Toilet Left, Bidet Right © Wikipedia

Let’s start from the beginning: bidet is French and is pronounced “bid-day”. Humorously, (at least it got an immature chuckle out of me) bidet means “a small saddle horse”. This I can only guess, or trust Wikipedia, to come from the way one is supposed to straddle the porcelain pony when attempting to use it.

Found in most hotels or homes in Italy, Greece, Spain and many other European countries the bidet comes in a couple different styles. There is the “jet of water shoots directly up from the bottom of the bowl” variety (like a drinking fountain) and for the more adventurous, the spigot variety that looks a lot like a sink/toilet combination. The former variety, I must admit, just plain scares me.

However, it is the latter that troubles me the most as it would seem that one is really supposed to fill the basin up with water and hover over it lapping water onto their nether regions until clean. The nozzle does not seem to shoot water at a “convenient” angle and if you’re not careful you could shoot a jet of water between your legs and straight across the room.

On a few occasions my friends and I have stood around one of these bidets, contemplating its potential uses. Freshening up after using the toilet of course was a likely possibility but as I mentioned it just looked uncomfortable and awkward.

What about washing one’s feet? This seemed a bit more practical but still the design didn’t seem conducive to such a use.

Perhaps a beer cooler? That hardly seemed appropriate.

Bidet Full of Beer
Perhaps not what bidet inventors had in mind.

Dogs often drink from the toilet bowl, right? Why not give them one of their own that refills with clean water at the turn of the faucet (for their part, the only thing missing is opposable thumbs). This must be more sanitary than having them plunge their heads into the family head. The chances of it being an odd foreign urinal were slim. There was a toilet right next to it.

Or perhaps, dare I say, it was the perfect size to wash a small child in? Hard to imagine Dr. Spock approving of such a use.

As it turns out the bidet was designed to hose off your backside and genitals after using the toilet but it has served many uses. Including all of the above uses (yes baby washing is one of them; just Google the image) the bidet kind of acts as a small sink.

The lack of its popularity in the States is probably from its inherent (at least I think inherent) characteristic of being a rather unsanitary form of hygiene. The variety that has a water jet pointed towards the ceiling from the base of the bowl for example, will by design attempt to clean your soiled bottom with water passing through the “soil” falling from your bottom.

For me, I just tend to steer clear of them when traveling. You may want to try these out, you may not. I suggest however that you don’t try and save a few bucks and wash your dirty clothes in one. In any case you can now tell your travel partner what that odd little “toilet” in the bathroom is for or just let them figure it out all on their own.

35 Responses

  1. Karrie Wallace

    Thanks for the “chuckles”, 1st thing in the morning! Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer a toilt/shower combo. Great article! Concise, funny & informative. Now I know how to keep my beers nice & cold on my travels to Europe, and the $ I’ll save on laundering my travel togs! Love this writer! Want to see MORE!!!!!

    Reply
  2. Andy

    I’ve been living in Italy for the last 5 years and I can’t imagine living without one now! It’s really very easy: just sit facing outwards, turn on the water (not to high, just like a sink) and use a hand to completely wash yourself with soap. *Very* sanitary and refreshing both for men and women, especially if you’ve just completed a “number 2″…. trust me, it beats the hell out of toilet paper, which doesn’t really get the job done that well.
    If you ever have the chance to use one, then try it… you might never want to go back to crappy toilet paper!

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  3. Javier

    I know it’s humor, but how’s toilet paper more sanitary that cleaning your butt with running water and soap?

    Here in South America (Uruguay actually) everyone’s home has a bidet too…

    Reply
  4. silvia

    Ok…i laughed a lot.
    I work with americans turists…and it’s very funny to talk about our lifestiles…and toilette it’s one of the funniest part of it.
    have you ever experienced in on many ways it’s possible to run water in italian toilet?…not just in bidet.
    But now i’ve a question….for the man that like so much just the shower…
    you clean yourself just one a day?
    And….when you want to make sex…don’t you try to clean yourself before?
    Are you not worried to stink?
    …I really Loved to live in Germany and in Ireland….but i really missed my toilette!
    Silvia

    Reply
  5. Chris

    LOL…great question…I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Well, as a man who does enjoy his showers once a day; I have found that timing them right can drastically reduce the need to wash oneself in a bidet before sex. Now, the stinking part…never seemed to be an issue for me but I’ll ask around and see if I’m just kidding myself. ;) Thanks for the comment Silvia!

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  6. Renata

    It’s pretty sad a SO DEVELOPED COUNTRY as USA keeps those disgusting habits of spreading shit with paper toilet. Bidets and “little douches” (like this: http://www.greia.com.br/img/vasinho.jpg) are just so necessary as sinks and toilets. I just can’t understand why americans don’t wash their intimate parts just after pee or pooh. That’s just something which intrigues A LOOOOOOOTTTTTT!!! The worst thing is the PRICEY HOTELS there WITH NO BIDET OR LITTLE DOUCHE!!! That makes me not wanting to go there!!! Are Americans porks???

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  7. Liz

    I think a Bidet is just one more idea of a thing that didn’t get transferred to the New World, and now we all have skewed perceptive of our ‘sanitary’ or ‘unsanitary’ living.
    Neither the US, or Europeans are wrong on either accounts, nor are they ‘porks’.
    It may seem better, I’ve never used one, but I personally think it doesn’t matter much, either way.

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  8. bert

    good article, I was converted to using a bidet since I have been living in Asia for the last 9 years. I now hate to use the toilet at home in Australia as smearing my rear end with the aid of toilet paper is totally disgusting compared with a jolly good squirt feeling clean and fresh once more. My family at home thought I was crazy.. but now.. more converts on the way!!!

    Reply
  9. Renata

    “My family at home thought I was crazy”

    Oh, my…

    Crazy are the ones who spread shit with paper… Yuck!!!

    A very simple comparision: how do you do your dishes? Do you clean them with paper and then put them into the closets or do you wash them?

    Easy.

    Reply
  10. BF

    If your toilet doesn`t have a bidet or an inbuilt tap there are other solutions. We live in North America and use soap and watering can(the ones you use to water plants )to clean our genitals.Before sitting on the toilet seat, we fill up the watering can (you can adjust the warmth of the water from the tap)Toilet paper is mostly to use intially before the actual washing and afterwards to wipe dry. I can`t imagine myself walking around with ….. in my genitals all day. This is why i carry with me a bottle of water to the public washroom or if i forgot, i soak some toilet paper or towel, maybe also add a little soap on it and wipe with it.(after which i still change my panty as soon as i get home and do the actual washing) I do the same thing for my 2yr old and 4 yr old as well. After pee, I only use water on them and after poop,wash their butt with soap.

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  11. Renata

    BF – quite a shame you people of USA, so developed and rich and powerful, have to take a bottle of water to the bath to hygienize yourselves!!! =O

    This is so poor and primitive!!! o.O

    Reply
  12. BF

    Hi Renata,
    It is very immature of you to blame ppl in such a stereotypical way.All you said is wrong starting with your claim that i live USA.(north america doesnt necessarily mean US) I wasn`t born where i live anyways. If you were to come here and rent an apt. or go to the library or any public place I wonder what were you going to do.If you have cleaner / less primitive ideas pls let me know.

    Reply
  13. Karrie Wallace

    Hello Renata, Wow! I can’t help but notice that you seem to spend alot of your time thinking & writing about this topic…hmmm…interesting. Have you ever thought of getting some therapy? You also seem to hold full contempt for people from the USA. Curious to know from which beautiful, ingenious & enlightened country you hail from? Please heed my advice & try to develope some more healthy interests. Best regards, Karrie

    Reply
  14. Renata

    Oh, BF, sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude… you’re tottally right. Sorry for my ignorance.

    About Karrie… I’ll have to be sincerely rude…

    “Vai pro diabo que te Karriegue” e não esqueça de lavar seu rabinho fedido!!! rsrsrsrs XD

    Reply
  15. Karrie Wallace

    Renata… Ouch!… ooh that smarts! What a potty mouth!…PS, I think your accent is sexy…xoxox Karrie

    Reply
  16. Chris Cook

    Wow! Renata you do seem a bit obsessed with the cleanliness of American genitals. Let me assure you that many of us take showers once or twice a day and do not walk around with…as I think you put it, “pee or poo” all over our bodies. I am curious to know also, which country do you live in? For your sake (and those around you) I must say I am sorry that when you visit the US we don’t have a bidet in every hotel room. It does sound like cleaning yourself with paper, for whatever reason, be it medical or lack of coordination, is an issue for you.

    Reply
  17. American White Beauty

    western toilets are ridiculous and bad designed and using only toilet paper after using toilet is totally unclean!

    nobody should see our legs when we are using public toilet cause it is totally disrespecting privacy and if they want to disturb us they can just squat, grab and and pull our legs. so the public rest rooms should be covered by walls and doors totally.

    btw, the things you should use after using toilet :

    1. a lot of water
    2. liquid soap
    3. surgery gloves
    4. and take shower after finished

    Note that you shall be naked when you use toilet so no worry your clothes may get “dirt”. dont say it is expensive. you have a lot of money so u can affort it.

    Reply
  18. Siva

    Hilarious. Woke up early in Venice hotel room and noticed we ran out of toilet paper. Googled what the other sink/potty in the bathroom was and got here.

    I am reminded by the new comcast ‘Shaks got your back’ commercial – thanks to the bidet, you saved m’day!

    Reply
  19. Megab

    I am not from the USA or a Latin country, where the people seems to believe toilet paper is unhygienic. In all my 53 years I have done well with toilet paper thank you. Bidets are rare in South Africa too. However, over the last 2 years I developed a condition where my bowels are not working properly and I need frequent trips to the loo and sometimes need washing not only in the butt crack but even into the rectum to bring relief. I just returned from a hotel with a bidet and found it very handy. That is why I am googling it too with the aim to instaa to

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  20. Megab

    with the aim to install one at home. Best practice wil be to still wipe with paper and then use the bidet – I understand some nations just wash. But not all the effort American White Beauty describes – who has that time, and what do you do if not at home or near a full bathroom?

    Reply
  21. Cindy

    I think in Asia, the bidets there are more like the bidet sprays, which are attached to the toilet, unlike the european versions which is a different toilet altogether. I did get one like the Asian style here : http://products.mercola.com/toilet-bidet/ at first it was really uncomfortable, but I got used to it. Can’t use that for washing feet or babies or chilling beer though haha!

    Reply
  22. Fred

    It is amazing that Americans and Northern Europeans don’t wash themselves properly after excreting their feces. They are not very clean after all.

    Reply
  23. Tonya Price

    Bidets are not common in the American Midwest, but there is always the option of the “wet wipe,” which is similar to a baby wipe, only you can flush it.
    Wet wipes (which one can buy in portable packets) are a lifesaver when there’s no toilet paper in a public bathroom or it’s just not feasible to wash one’s behind with soap and water after having a messy poo.
    I wouldn’t mind having a bidet. I go through a lot of the wet wipes because I don’t want my behind to stink between showers.

    Reply
  24. Anna

    I think this is a pretty vile, unsanitary, outdated device. Basically, other people’s genital & anal bacteria clings to that bowl, and you bathe your own nether regions in that bacteria once the water comes into contact with the bowl. Henceforth, yeast infections & STDs.

    And what a terrible waste of water!

    They were once fairly popular here in England (or at least a fair few of my elderly relatives had them in the south). I tried one several times and hated it. Instinctively it felt wrong.

    I think people now realise the health risks. It’s as bad as flushing the toilet after use while still seated and trying to wash yourself that way. And if your a*se is really messy after taking a sh*t, it’s probably because you have a poor diet.

    Many people tend to use wet wipes or moist, antibacterial toilet tissue nowadays. And most people have a bath or shower before sex, right?

    Sorry, but for once I am on the side of the Americans on this one.

    Reply
  25. Jonathan

    Um… why on Earth would you use water from the bowl? It’s not a health risk at all. Water is streaming upward for a reason and the water should be no more unsanitary than out of a water fountain or public sink. There’s not a single actual example of anyone getting an STD from a toilet seat, so why you fathom such would happen with a bidet is beyond reason.

    And in your own home it should be even less of a risk…

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  26. Ster

    Toilet paper is not hygienic at all. It’s the equivalent of cleaning your dishes by wiping them with a dry piece of paper and then putting them back in the cabinet.

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  27. karen

    In Rome the bidet was the type that you straddle and splash water yourself onto the private areas. My question is though, what the heck is the little plastic bag..its no more then 5 inches long and not very wide..? what is it for?
    Good grief..someone help? It isnt by the toilet so dont try something to do with the toilet?
    Anyone??

    Reply
  28. esteban

    First time I used a bidet was in jamaica. I sat down, cranked up the fountain spray between my legs to almost my chin, and used the water to brush my teeth! We were newly married and became addicted. Great for pre-love body wash…in all those important crevices and sensitive places where lips and tongues roam. When the house was in party mode, twosomes of gals going for a pee might sorta co-pee, one on the bidet and the other on the toilet, with both using the bidet for that clean and ready security. As a guy, it is a great bag washer, and bum washer. We keep liquid soap on hand, and it is simply nice to always be clean. Bidets keep your undershorts clean, the odors down, and sexuality tweaked and at the ready. If you really want a quickie, the bidet is quicker than the shower.

    Reply

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