What is that thing lurking in the bathroom? Many visitors to Rome regard them with a mixture fascination and trepidation. Some people ignore them, some use them for cooling their beers (gross) or cleaning their shoes (really gross).
But most people, once they’ve learned the correct way to use a bidet, come to think of it as a true friend and many don’t want to go back to life without one. Here’s how.
Warning: due to the nature of the subject, from now on we will dispense with polite language. If you are of a sensitive nature, please find another article to read.
The bidet (in Italian bidè, pronounced bee-DEH) is a ubiquitous feature in homes and hotels throughout Italy.
You will find one in every hotel, B&B, or apartment in Italy. Not the little squirter device attached to the toilet bowl that is also called a “bidet” in the US, but the large, low, toilet-shaped receptacle with faucets in the bathroom next to the toilet.
It’s a convenient piece of bathroom furniture specifically designed to clean your nether regions.
In other words it’s a sink for your butt.
First mentioned in literature in 18th century France, the bidet was originally a piece of boudoir furniture, and was designed to be filled with water from a jug, though now is plumbed in and has its own hot and cold water supply and a faucet.
While today the bidet has somewhat fallen out of use in France, it has been adopted as fundamental part of life in Italy. In fact the bidet is now so ingrained into Italian culture that it’s a legal obligation to put a bidet in every bathroom that is built on domestic or hotel property.
A bidet can still be filled with soapy water to wash, although with high water pressure most people choose to use soap and clean running water.
The bidet is for washing your nether regions.
That means specifically: you can use it to clean your butt, and/or your taint, and/or your genitals.
The most common use is to wash after a poop, but it’s also sometimes used after a pee, to give yourself a quick freshen-up if you don’t have time for a shower, and for cleaning your genitals before and after adult activities. It’s also an invaluable device for people to clean up during their menstrual cycle.
Sometimes Italians also use the bidet to clean their feet.
It’s not for nothing that there was no shortage of toilet paper in Italy at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The supermarkets were overflowing with the stuff (even though most of the pasta sold out).
That said, it’s incorrect to imagine that Italians don’t use toilet roll. But when faced with the prospect of a shortage, Italians knew there were alternatives.
After pooping, Italians use toilet paper on their butt, but not obsessively so.
The person will get themselves clean enough then slide themselves from the toilet seat to sit on the bidet and get extra-specially clean. This is done by running the water directly from the nozzle onto the buttcrack region, and then using a special type of soap to wash the buttcrack and bunghole thoroughly – with the hand – and then rinse.
While to clean the butt one sits on the bidet as if it were another toilet, if you want to clean your genital area it’s also acceptable to straddle the bidet and direct running water directly onto the genitals, again washing using the special soap.
Soap for use in bidets is called sapone intimo or detergente intimo. It’s supposedly gentler on your anal and genital regions than regular soap.
Even more strangely, it’s believed that male and female sensitive parts have differing levels of acidity, so there are intimate soaps aimed at men (pH 5.5) and women (pH 3.5), as well as for children (pH 4.5).
Your hotel bathroom will likely have sapone intimo available, even if you didn’t know what it was at first.
Most places will have a dedicated small towel (or set of towels) that will likely be hanging on a ring or a hook next to the bidet.
These are personal – one per person – and are only for your intimate area! Don’t dry your face with them. If you’re a guest in someone’s house, don’t use these towels – if there’s nothing available use toilet paper to dry yourself after using the bidet.
Finally, here’s an uncomfortable and little-spoken truth: some Italians consider people who don’t use a bidet to be a little dirty. They see the population of a country that lives without bidets and think, “Everyone’s walking around with a dirty butt.” When they go to foreign countries the three things from home that they miss the most: food, coffee, and bidet.
Logically, it is much cleaner. Think of it this way: if you accidentally got peanut butter on your hand, would you just wipe it with paper, or would you use soap and water? So why would you then use the least efficient method of cleaning to remove literally the dirtiest thing you get on yourself every day?
All this author can say is, once you’ve learned the way of the bidet, you will never want to live without one.