Why Americans Don’t Use Bidets

When in Rome? In ancient Rome, they used a rag on the end of a stick instead of toilet paper (one of the possible reasons for the phrase, “getting hold of the wrong end of the stick” — the other origin of the phrase may derive from 19th century printing press when the letters were placed in a stick and backwards — so if you got hold of the wrong end of the stick, you would not comprehend the sentence).

Toilet and bidet in Rome.

Modern Roman toilets look much as they do in other parts of the world, but the flush handle is usually a button on the wall. Another thing is that Roman toilets include a bidet (“bee-DAY” or “beh-day”). The bidet is basically a bathtub for your nether parts. It looks like a toilet bowl and to use it, you back down on it, wash yourself, and then dry yourself using a towel (hence why there is a towel rack nearby). The cultures that do use a bidet consider those that don’t, a bit baffling, as they wonder why one would only use paper to clean up a sticky situation?

In the middle east and Indian subcontinent, people use “the mechanical action of the left hand” instead of toilet paper. Many of these countries also have a “bidet shower” — a spray hose. In my apartment in Bangladesh, there was a spray hose near the toilet instead of toilet paper. The water pressure on the ones in my apartment had the force of a power wash, but I was told that it was to clean off my left hand, not for direct application. The bidet shower, or spray hose, is also used in Finland and Estonia, according to Wikipedia. The Japanese of old times used a stick to clean the backside but now they have electronic toilets with sprayed water and air, both warmed. Japanese toilets also can include a heated seat and “politeness” music.

The average American uses 50 pounds of toilet paper every year. Many countries do not use toilet paper. Many Catholic countries use water rather than paper, or a combination of the two. Also, considering how much paper and water flush toilets waste, perhaps the bidet shower is the way of the future? In terms of wasting resources getting rid of our waste, the city of Los Angeles spends four million dollars each year unclogging toilet paper from their sewers. In many countries, one can’t flush toilet paper down the toilet. In Peru, one puts the toilet paper in a trash can next to the toilet.

Can you tell that I’m writing a book about toilets? Due to the pandemic, toilet paper has been on our minds — a lot. I have actually been interested in toilets from a cultural viewpoint for quite a while, as toilet habits have been a bit different in many of the countries where I have lived. Going to the toilet is one of those things that people don’t talk about too much, but it is that one thing that we all do, and affects culture, from water usage, home construction, art, language, religion, and customs.

One of the many memes I collected during 2020’s toilet paper hunt.

Back to the bidet. The bidet means “little horse” in French and refers to the straddling position one assumes when using it. The bidet was popularized in France in the 18th century, supposedly much used by the French prostitutes. The British considered the French to be hedonistic, and therefore their bidets to be hedonistic. Americans of those times followed British customs and this is, supposedly, why Americans do not use bidets. But, I know more and more who are installing Japanese toilets and bidet toilets in their homes. Like in the ad below, perhaps it will become a thing in the new American toilet. Freedom Toilets?

Will the modern American toilet include a bidet?

May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor in the Toilet Paper Hunt

Searching for toilet paper in the time of COVID feels a bit like participating in the Hunger Games. Well, only in the U.S. In other places, like Peru, there is plenty of toilet paper. But, then again, I don’t suppose anyone in Lima has stockpiled it quite as much as in some other Internet-famous stories. This hunting for toilet paper has made me think quite a bit about toilets (read this article, if you have also been thinking about toilets). Of course, there is the basic psychological economic angle to this: when the… hits the fan, then at least the purchase of toilet paper is something one can do to take the situation into your own hands, so to speak. 

When I read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the hairdressers who populated the earth, used tree leaves as currency. Toilet paper can be dear (a British expression for pricey) and I recall hearing about people using the Sears catalog as toilet paper.

A doodle I did about the worth of toilet paper. This scene actually happened.

If only toilet paper grew on trees. It sort of does, if you’re a cowboy. The Mullein is a plant called “cowboy toilet paper” because that’s what it was used as. 

In many cultures the idea of using toilet paper is odd, even unsanitary. Many places use water (In previous times in the Yemen, they used sand.) either in bidet, hose, scooper, or some other method. In ancient Rome, they used a toilet brush. In modern times, the Japanese toilet is famous for “contactless” cleaning including water, warm air, heated seats, and music. Toilets are one thing that have not evolved much as Bill Gates will tell you

Oddly, the other thing that is hard to find is Tabasco sauce. Maybe everyone is using the Tabasco to wash down their own cooking… and then they need the toilet paper…