Bidet Etiquette Around the World: Cultural Perspectives

Bidets are a common bathroom fixture found in many parts of the world. However, how they are used, and etiquette varies significantly across different cultures. Understanding bidet etiquette is crucial when traveling or interacting with people from different backgrounds. Let’s explore bidet customs in various countries, shedding light on the fascinating cultural perspectives that shape bathroom practices.

Bidet: A French Affair

Originating in France in the late 17th century, the bidet or the washlet is firmly rooted in European bathing culture. Predating indoor plumbing, the earliest washlets were ceramic basins placed on stands. Today, it’s common to find bidets in French homes and hotels, often paired with a traditional toilet. The etiquette is simple: after using the toilet, move to the bidet, adjust the water temperature and pressure to your liking, and cleanse. It’s a rinse, not a soak, and towel drying is the norm afterward.

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The Italian Perspective

Italy is another bastion of bidet believers. Washlets have been mandated by law in every Italian bathroom since 1975. Like the French, Italians utilize the bidet for a post-toilet freshening up. However, the use of soap in addition to water is an Italian touch. It’s worth noting that using the bidet as a mini bathtub for small children, or washing anything other than individual body parts, is considered disrespectful and a faux pas.

Japan’s Technological Bidet

They are also known as “washlets” and are a testament to Japan’s reputation for blending technology with daily life. From an outsider’s perspective, the array of features can seem bewildering. Yet, each function contributes to a comfortable and hygienic experience that revolutionizes the traditional concept of a bathroom visit. Some of the features include:

  • Feature-Rich Hygiene
    When you first encounter a Japanese bidet, the immediate standout is the control panel—either attached to the side of the seat or mounted on a nearby wall. This panel houses buttons and indicators for a plethora of functions. The level of control offered to the user is one of the defining features of Japanese washlets. Users can adjust the pressure and temperature of the water spray, ensuring a comfortable experience tailored to individual preferences. Some models even offer options for the direction and pattern of the water spray, adding another layer of personalization.
  • Warmth and Comfort
    Washlets in Japan go the extra mile to provide comfort. The heated seat is one of the most appreciated features, especially during the cold months. This function ensures a warm and inviting experience, irrespective of the season. And the comfort doesn’t stop there. Some models come equipped with a warm air dryer that offers a gentle and hygienic alternative to toilet paper, reducing waste and promoting cleanliness.
  • Aesthetic and Practical Considerations
    The Japanese washlets also impress with their sleek design and practical features. The minimalist aesthetic and compact design considerations ensure the bidet fits seamlessly into any bathroom. Practical features include automatic lids that open and close as you approach and leave, reducing the need for physical contact and further increasing hygiene.
  • Deodorizing and Sanitizing
    The built-in deodorizer is one feature of the high-tech Japanese bidet that surprises many first-time users. This function neutralizes odors, keeping the bathroom fresh regardless of use. Some models also have a self-cleaning mechanism that sanitizes the nozzle after each use, further emphasizing hygiene.

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Bidet in the American Context

They have had a complex history in the United States. Long seen as a foreign and somewhat perplexing fixture, American bathrooms have traditionally favored toilet paper over washlets. However, in recent years, there’s been a significant shift in perceptions and usage, with more Americans becoming intrigued by and investing in this European staple.

Initial Perplexity

Many Americans encounter bidet for the first time during overseas travels, often leading to confusion or amusement. Historically, washlets have needed to be more understood in the US, with some people needing clarification on their purpose and others regarding them as luxury items. Unlike Europe and parts of Asia, where washlets are a common fixture, American bathrooms typically do not include this appliance.

Environmental Considerations

In recent years, there’s been a growing awareness of the environmental impact of toilet paper production and usage in the United States. Producing toilet paper requires significant quantities of water and trees, and its disposal contributes to sewage and landfill issues. These environmental concerns have increased interest in more sustainable options, like washlets, which use significantly less water and eliminate the need for toilet paper.

Health and Hygiene Benefits

Americans are becoming more aware of the health and hygiene benefits of using washlets. Not only do washlets provide a higher level of cleanliness, but they’re also beneficial for individuals with medical conditions such as hemorrhoids, postoperative care, and during menstruation or pregnancy. This has sparked a greater interest in washlets and contributed to their growing adoption in the US.

Final Thoughts

Bidet etiquette is an essential aspect of understanding and respecting cultural norms worldwide. While bidets serve the common purpose of personal hygiene, their associated customs vary greatly depending on the country and region. By familiarizing ourselves with bidet basics and being mindful of local customs, we can navigate diverse cultural practices with ease and respect. So, the next time you encounter a bidet during your travels, embrace the opportunity to experience different perspectives and approach them open-mindedly.


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