Bidets (the greatest joy of overseas travel)

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My initial exposure to bidets was an eye-opening event. I was instantly converted, and there was no way I was going back to toilet tissue after this revelatory experience (at least not willingly).

European bidet

Nature Calls

In my twenties, I took a teaching job in Japan. It was my first time outside the Western hemisphere. When I was shown my apartment, which the school arranged for me in a quaint town on Honshu island, I was immediately horrified by the sight of a squat toilet. How was that supposed to work? Was I going to topple over? Was I just going to have to hold it in until I returned to the States?

I was relieved (no pun intended) to quickly discover that I was a natural at using this unfamiliar contraption. In fact, I started to prefer it to the throne — the squat position seemed to make the task easier.

The bum gun

But, a new enigma presented itself when I saw a hose mounted on the wall beside the squatter. I gazed querulously at the hose, wondering if this device was meant to clean the toilet or the floor (which really amounted to the same thing).

I don’t remember how I discovered its true purpose, but I ultimately did. And, after utilizing the sprayer for a while, I could not fathom how I ever got by without it. In fact, I could never get used to toilet-tissue again.

Once you go bidet, you can never stray

Years after I returned to the States, I harbored a lingering resentment for being forced daily to use paper instead of the more sensible bidet.  I’d angrily think, “Paper? You might as well give me a pile of dried leaves!”

I could not for the life of me grasp why we Americans insisted on wiping (i.e., smearing) rather than spraying and therefore completely cleansing ourselves. It seemed like an utterly primitive and barbaric ritual. Was it national pride that kept us from adopting bidets? It sounded French, therefore we didn’t want anything to do with it?

There were no valid reasons for not using a bidet.

When we accidentally step in dog excrement, do we merely take a tissue to the soiled shoe, or do we vigorously wash it with water? Of course, we use water – all of the water! Why would people behave any differently after relieving themselves? How completely illogical and unsanitary!

And then there’s the unnecessary cost and wastefulness of tissue versus water. When utilizing a bidet, the only purpose tissue paper serves is to dry oneself, which can be achieved with just two or three squares — a huge boon over time to both your wallet and the environment.

Seeing the (bathroom) light

I wonder how I was kept in the dark for so long about this life-changing invention which had been around since the 17th century. Prior to that first eye-opening encounter with the “bum-gun” in Japan, I had associated bidets specifically with feminine hygiene. Why was this knowledge withheld from me?

Relying on toilet tissue after relieving oneself is barbaric, unsanitary, ineffective, expensive and wasteful. I firmly believe Americans would be less irritable and contentious and perhaps even stop mean-tweeting each other if they felt cleaner after their bathroom breaks.

But until that day comes, if you, too, want to experience the absolute joy of bidets first hand, I urge you to immediately book a flight to almost anywhere in Asia, and parts of Europe and Africa. (Unfortunately, aside from Argentina, most of North and South America are entirely bidet-free.)

Of course, I kid you — you don’t really need to travel to use a bidet. You could theoretically install one in your home even though you may be ostracized for doing so, and labeled pretentious or eccentric. Just ignore what your unenlightened friends and neighbors say, close your eyes and imagine you are in some more civilized land overseas (like Kenya or Cambodia).

So many bidets to choose from

Toilet seat bidet
A cheap bidet seat

Personally, I prefer the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of the bum-gun; but if money is no object, and you want full control over the experience, you can try the more elaborate smart toilet seat, which includes temperature and pressure controls, among other features. I find the traditional European bidet (which requires its users to relocate their cheeks from toilet to bidet) a less sensible option — unnecessarily occupying more space and requiring more effort to install (and use). It really comes down to personal preference and budget; but, rest assured there is a bidet out there with your name on it.

A strange passion

I realize this has been an odd choice for my very first blog post, but ever since I discovered this hygienic wonder in Japan, I have been on a mission to convert anyone willing to listen into a bidet-user. I want to lead my people out of the cave into the light of day by sharing with them my greatest discovery overseas. (You’re welcome.)

Traveling abroad forces us to re-evaluate our own idiosyncratic culture more objectively so that we can see the folly of our ways and hopefully correct course.


Michael Avalon
I've been traveling around the world more-or-less continuously since October 2016, starting when I was 43. When the midlife tour began, I was working at a web design company as a Web developer -- touring or transiting between cities by day and working into the wee hours of the night.
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