Why Don’t Americans Use Bidets?
A mini-shower for your nether region, bidets are a popular way worldwide to keep said regions tidy, and there are plenty of extremely inexpensive options for easily outfitting any standard toilet with one. So why has this popular bathroom fixture not caught on in the United States? Old prejudices, (surprisingly new) habit, and comfort-level. (Note: Toilet paper wasn’t commonly used in the United States until the 20th century)
Believed to have originated in France, the first bidets were simply a bowl of water over which, after relieving herself, a person would squat and then use a hand to splash and wipe away any messes that remained.
Eventually, a short narrow stool with a bowl inset was developed that could be sat astride for easier cleaning. As a person who is mounted on this contraption resembles one sitting on the small, stout pony, a “bidet” in French, the name was soon adopted for the bathroom fixture.
Christophe des Rosiers is credited with inventing the bidet, although the first written record of one appears in a 1710 account of the Marquis d’Argenson, who noted that he had an audience with one Mademoiselle de Prie “as she sat astride her bidet.”
In 1750, an upward sprayer powered by a hand-pump was added, and thus, bidet á seringue, (bidet with syringe) was born.
The modern bidet that resembles a toilet was developed in the 19th century, and the very popular bidet seat came about in the 1960s, with one of the most popular invented by an American, Arnold Cohen.
In the 1980s, the modern seat was improved with the creation of the “washlet.” Using remote-controlled wands that spout water jets and finish with a warm-air dryer, the washlet is hugely popular, particularly in Japan.
So why don’t Americans use them? After all, if fecal matter got on just about anywhere else on your body, you wouldn’t just wipe it off with toilet paper and call it good. Why should your derrière be any different?
Although there is no definitive answer in each and every case as to why Americans eschew a bidet, there are a few major contributing factors.
To begin with, there is the historical disdain that 18th century Britons had for the French aristocracy and its decadent and hedonistic lifestyle. As the early American colonists were heavily influenced by their British heritage, it is thought that this sentiment came with them to America, too.
Another theory notes that during World War II, the first (and often only) experience many Americans had with a bidet was when soldiers saw them in French brothels, which “perpetuat[ed] the idea that bidets were somehow associated with immorality.”
A third theory, perhaps most plausible, looks to the classical process of bidet-ing. Unlike the use of a paper shield between hand and butt, traditionally with the bidet (though not so much anymore), the bare hand was used to splash, wipe and generally clean both the junk and the trunk. As Americans traditionally have been extremely conservative about such things (the first toilet flushing didn’t even show up in cinema until 1960 in the film, Psycho, partially because of this), it is thought this may have influenced the rejection of the bidet as indoor plumbing became more and more common.
The continued rejection today is then, perhaps, more about habit and tradition, rather than based on any rational idea- the classic, “that’s how we’ve always done it” line of thinking. Even for those that use them in America, the general notion of it being slightly uncouth to talk about one’s bathroom hygienic practices (which is also partially why it’s called a “bathroom, restroom, lavatory, latrine, washroom, etc.” instead of referencing what actually goes on in said rooms most of the time- peeing and pooping) also lends itself to not spreading the word about the drastically superior cleaning experience with bidets over toilet paper alone. So even for those who aren’t nearly so prudish today, they simply stick with what they know, namely toilet paper.
Why The Switch Should Be Made
It’s dirt cheap (starting at around $25 for a basic model) and ridiculously easy to install toilet seat variety bidets, with the cost quickly being offset by the savings on toilet paper. You see, unsurprisingly, bidet use drastically reduces the need for toilet paper, of which in North America over 36 billion rolls are used each year.
In addition, bidets (particularly those with heated seats) offer comfort and greater hygiene, as the jets ensure your tush is thoroughly cleaned (as opposed to the dingleberries and skid marks that can result from using only toilet paper). This added comfort factor is particularly beneficial to those suffering from a sensitive backside at a given time, such as via swollen hemorrhoids or rash. (Note, contrary to popular belief, everyone has hemorrhoids, all the time. Yes, even you.)
Third, using too much paper, or even just the thicker high-end kind, can lead to clogged toilets and sometimes clogged septic systems or clogged public sewer systems that require a lot of money be spent to fix them. (This is particularly the case when people use so called “flushable wipes” for cleaning, which help create something known in the sewer industry as “fatbergs” that clog the pipes.) Since little-to-no paper is used when a bidet is employed, such blockages are much less common in bidet-loving countries. For reference as to the expense, in San Francisco alone, the city spends about four million dollars annually just cleaning out fatbergs according to Tyrone Jue of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
Fourth, older people, among others, often benefit from the bidet as the sprayer reduces or eliminates the need for hand wiping – something that can be difficult for those with arthritis, or who, just due to advanced age, disability, or injury, are less mobile.
Fifth, women who suffer from frequent urinary tract infections may benefit from washing with bidets, as opposed to only cleaning the area during the once-a-day shower. By washing away the specific pesky microbes responsible, there is less chance that some will enter the urethra and cause problems. There are also significant cleaning benefits during menstruation, which can be more easily taken care of with relatively inexpensive dual sprayer units that have a feminine hygiene setting.
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- Why the Toilet is Also Called the “John”
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- In 19th century London, people’s home sewage was retained in their backyards in cesspools. For those who couldn’t afford a cleaning service, they simply dumped the contents of their cesspools into the Thames River. The smell was so horrific by 1858, the resulting “Great Stink” goaded London’s Parliament to pass legislation directing the building of sewers throughout the city. See our article on: The Great Stink of 1858.
- Today, over 2.6 billion people have no access to a toilet – this is about 40% of the world’s population. In India alone, hundreds of millions of people have no toilet access, with the result that “open defecation” is common on the streets of many towns and cities. About 600,000 people in India die each year from sewage-related diseases like cholera and diarrhea.
- Open defecation causes additional problems for women, who are frequently attacked when they go alone. To avoid harassment, women in India often go in groups, and because modesty is preserved when they go when it’s dark, they typically arise very early in the morning, and then wait for sunset at night. Of course, the cover of darkness also hides anyone who has designs on attacking or harassing the women. Despite these hardships, some Indians disdain indoor toilets as unsanitary, and believe that “feces don’t belong under the same roof as where we eat and sleep.” In fact, despite the government’s recent initiative to install millions of toilets in people’s homes, it is estimated that in some regions, over half will not use them and will continue to go outside.
- The British word for the toilet, “loo,” derives from the French “guardez l’eau,” meaning “watch out for the water.” This comes from the fact that, in medieval Europe, people simply threw the contents of their chamber pots out the window onto the streets. The term “guardez l’eau” first came to English as “gardy-loo” and then shortened to “loo,” which eventually came to mean the toilet itself.
- The toilet is also sometimes known as the “head.” This was originally a maritime euphemism. This came from the fact that, classically, the toilet (or at least where people expelled their bodily fluids) on a marine vessel was located at the front of the ship (the head). This was so that water from the sea that splashed up on the front of the boat would wash the waste away. This term is thought to have been used as early as the 17th century. The first known documented occurrence of the term, however, was from 1708 by Woodes Rogers, Governor of the Bahamas; he used the word to refer to a ship’s toilet in the book “Cruising Voyage Around the World.”
- The term “toilet” itself comes from the French “toilette”, which meant “dressing room.” This “toilette” in turn derived from the French “toile,” meaning “cloth”; specifically, referring to the cloth draped over someone’s shoulders while their hair was being groomed. During the 17th century, the toilet was simply the process of getting dressed, fixing your hair, and applying makeup and the like, more or less grooming one’s self. This gradually began to refer to the items around where someone was groomed, such as the table, powder bottles, and other items. Around the 1800s in America, this term began being used to refer to both the room itself where people got dressed and ready for the day, as well as the device now most commonly known as the toilet.
- The term “latrine” comes from the Latin “lavare,” which means “to wash.” The earliest references to this term being used in English go all the way back to the mid-17th century.
- The term “restroom” has American roots, first appearing in the early 20th century. It comes from the notion of “rest” referring to “refreshing” one’s self. Around the same time “restroom” began popping up, the British term “retiring room,” deriving from more or less the same notion, began being used among the upper class in Great Britain.
- The term “lavatory” also derives from the Latin “lavare,” although this time through the Middle Latin variation “lavatorium,” meaning “washbasin.” This popped up in English around the late 19th century.
- The term “crapper” derives from the company name “Thomas Crapper & Co Ltd,” which made toilets in Britain. See: Why are Toilets Called “The Crapper” and Why are Toilets Sometimes Called “The John.”
- Unlike the English, Americans, and many other peoples around the world, who prefer a variety of euphemisms to refer to the toilet, the French often simply call it the “pissoir,” which just means “place to piss.” The English and Americans have a similar term, “shit house,” but it is obviously not a term typically found in polite conversation.
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- India Inc’s loo-natic rush for toilets
- India’s long, dark, dangerous walk
- India’s Toilet Race Failing as Villagers Don’t Use Them
- The Origin of the Bidet
- A Short History of the Bidet
- The problem with sewage
- Why aren’t bidets more popular in America?
- Why Aren’t Bidets Common in the U.S.?
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