A summer evening in a Catalan village. I have spent the day running up and down the dusty path in front of my grandparents’ farmhouse, and now it’s bedtime. “But first we need to wash your feet,” my mother says. She unlaces my red, rope-soled espadrilles and stands me in the funny little porcelain tub next to the toilet. The cold water feels delicious, and I wiggle my toes as the day’s accumulation of dirt swirls down the drain. The little tub, of course, is a bidet, like the one in our apartment in Barcelona, and the one in my other grandparents’ apartment, and the one in any house I’ve ever been in because, without bidets, how would people clean their feet?
Years later, when I was living in the U.S., American friends returning from Europe would tell about those ubiquitous footbaths, which were found in even the most modest hotels. If they had checked the dictionary they could have figured the thing out, since it lists as the first meaning of bidet, “a pony or small nag”—that is, something you straddle….
Even so, Americans used to wonder, why bother with this extra piece of bathroom furniture? Why not simply take a shower and scrub every square inch of your skin? I’m not sure when hot water heaters became the norm in Europe, but when I was a child there most people lived in unheated apartments (except for the occasional brazier or electric heater) where, if you wanted warm water for your bath, you had to heat it on the kitchen stove. Hence the usefulness of the bidet for localized hygiene.
But now, at long last, the bidet has come to America, and it has landed with a splash. The contemporary American bidet is to the bidets of my childhood as a Cadillac is to a pony or small nag. It does not take up bathroom space; instead, it is discreetly integrated into the toilet seat, where it performs some extraordinary functions.
Here is a random example: the Bidet King’s luxury Bliss Series (reduced from $699 to $489) features “sleek, fluid curves with a pearl-like finish.” Its many functions are controlled with a remote, although there is also a backup control panel that doubles as a blue LED night light. The water, needless to say, is heated, as is the toilet seat, as are the gentle puffs of air that dry what needs to be dried after every Bliss session. But the most impressive feature of this model is its selection of sprays—some extra powerful for people weighing over 250 lbs, some extra gentle for the gentle sex. The patented vortex water stream is capable of pulsating, and provides a choice between “wide cleaning” and “massage cleaning.” The bidet offers an “intelligent body sensor”; an “enema function” (I wonder what the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons has to say about this); and something called a “bubble infusion,” but when I got to this part my mind boggled and I stopped reading.
It’s easy to make fun of these smirk-inducing gizmos, but you should know that I too have acquired one—although mine has no heated anything, no remote to get mixed up with the ones for the TV, and only a humble mechanical flow adjuster. In fact, though, bidets are not only useful for people’s special needs and desires—and who, to quote Pope Francis, am I to judge?—but they are good for the environment. The boreal forests are being decimated by our insatiable need for toilet paper, and our obsession with long, hot, daily showers that use on average over 16 gallons of water threatens to exhaust our rivers and lakes and water tables. A bidet in every bathroom could be a force for good.
So I say, welcome to America, bidets of all stripes, whether bare-bones like mine or gold-plated and fit for the Trump Tower. From hygiene to entertainment, you serve many useful functions. But despite all your bells and whistles, doodads and refinements, you are no match for the old model when all one wants is to wash one’s feet.
Loved the bidet blog, Lali. I know nothing about foot washing with something called a bidet but I love the new toilet seat gizmo that I was encouraged to get as I left
Cedar this last time. It is a delight to use and is the perfect instrument for dealing with some of life’s necessities. On the foot washing front, though, I feel that the “great loss” is a bathtub. I have such happy memories of long soaks, with or without a book, candles, a glass of wine. It was the “never improved upon” way to clean and relax . Giving that up in favor of a 4 inch “lip” into a well-barred and good looking shower seems just a shame, and I find myself simply unable to believe I probably couldn’t get into a bathtub safely and be forced to agree that I most assuredly could not get out. The bidet, on the other hand, represents the new as an improvement on the old way of doing things. At least there is that. Pam
Yes, thank goodness for technological advances! As for tub baths, my elderly mother-in-law got stuck in her tub one day and got out by filling the tub until she could float out, using Archimedes’ principle.
My recollection of the first bidet I encountered and the use I envisioned for it: When I was in my late teens, I discovered this strangely shaped small metal tub placed on a metal stand. It clearly was antiquated, with paint chipping, and stood in the back yard of our little summer cabin. I told my father I’d like to use it for a geranium stand for which it seemed perfect. My father was quite opposed to this idea. I had grown up in a small apartment near Zurich, where the bathroom was so tiny, one person could barely find room next to the narrow tub, toilet and sink. So, there certainly was no room for a bidet and I had no clue as to what this metal tub was. My father didn’t elucidate about it, or explain that it had stood in his parents’ bathroom, where there probably had been no running water, etc. Later, having a bit more education, I understood his reluctance to use it for flowers. On the other hand, I still think it would have been perfect for some cascading ivy geraniums on the balcony of our apartment …..
I can vividly imagine your vision of the geranium-filled bidet, and your father being “quite opposed” for some unfathomable reason!