The most typical question I get from new arrivals in Italy isn’t “Where can I exchange money?” or “How do I get to the nearest gelato place?” but “What’s that thing next to the toilet in my bathroom? Do Italians really wash their ‘you know what’ in it?” To help demystify this mysterious contraption lurking in an Italian bagno near you, here’s a list of answers to 10 common bidet questions:
1. How do you say, “bidet”?
In English: (Bih-DAY) – rhymes with “okay,” hence the wildly clever title of this article. In Italian: (Bee-DEH)
2. What is the main purpose of a bidet?
To clean yourself after going to the bathroom. In Italy, they’re used in addition to, and not in place of, toilet paper.
3. Do bidets have other uses?
Yes. They’re also used for washing after intercourse and, for us fortunate females, sprucing up during “that time of the month.” And, because of their low height, they’re great for shaving your legs or washing your feet. (Walk around a historic Italian city in sandals all day, and you’ll understand the necessity of that last one).
4. Where will I find bidets?
Bidets are common in Southern Europe, and parts of Asia and South America. In Italy, you’ll see bidets in almost every hotel room and private bathroom. Due to their somewhat intimate nature, they aren’t common in public places.
5. Are there different types of bidets?
Yes. The average bidet in Italy looks and works just like a sink, with an adjustable faucet nozzle that allows you to control the angle of the water stream. Others spray water upwards, like a geyser, from a jet in the bottom of the basin. Some are built right into the toilet, with a little lever nearby to start the water stream. And the kind I avoid is filled with water flowing from the sides of the bowl, which is then splashed onto whatever part you’re washing or even used to “dunk” a little of yourself inside. Although not unlike taking a bath, I believe in full immersion for languages, not bidets.
6. Are bidets hygienic?
Other than maybe that last kind, yes, bidets are extremely sanitary. To put it one way: if a pigeon pooped on your head, would you just wipe it off with a paper towel, or use soap and water?
…the latter all the way, right?
Bidets are basically used to keep yourself extra clean, and they even prevent infections. I promise that, after trying one, you’ll look back on your previous bathroom rituals with mild displeasure. But if you’re still cringing at the thought of sharing a bidet with other people you’re living or vacationing with, let me just remind you that you’re all probably using the same toilet and shower (which isn’t much different).
7. How do you sit on a bidet?
Depending on which side of you needs attention, either facing away from the controls, like you sit on a toilet, or toward them, like you mount a horse (“bidet” is antiquated French word for “pony”). Giddy up!
8. Do you control the water temperature and pressure?
Usually. In most cases, the bidet will have three knobs: one on the left for hot water, one in the middle for water pressure, and one on the right for cold water. Tip: Be careful in Italy because “c” stands for “calda” (hot), and not the English word, “cold.” Other bidets have a single central control that regulates temperature (side to side) and pressure (up and down). Bidets built into toilets, on the other hand, sometimes have only one lever that turns the stream off and on. In this case you have some control over the pressure, but the temperature is left up to mother nature.
9. What’s the proper bidet washing technique?
Pretend you’re taking a localized shower: 1) get yourself wet 2) lather up using soap and your hand 3) rinse off. In Italy, you can purchase detergente intimo (intimate cleanser) at most grocery stores and pharmacies. It’s milder than regular soap and pH5 balanced, to preserve your skin’s natural defenses. One of the most popular Italian brands is Chilly, which like its name promises, will leave you feeling pleasantly refreshed.
10. What do I dry myself with?
If you’re at a hotel or in your own bathroom, with your personal, hand-sized towel hanging next to the bidet. If you’re at a friend’s house, with toilet paper. Which brings me to my last point: when in a bathroom in Italy, looking for something to dry your hands or face, don’t reach for the towel near the bidet.
Have you ever said okay to a bidet? Would you try one now?
…and if you rent a student apartment in Florence, make sure it’s one of ours!