#42: The mystery of the bidet

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Ah the bidet. That shiny porcelain piece of bathroom furniture which, for Italians, proves they are superior beings to all other nations.

Like most people born outside of Italy, I have spent a lifetime ignoring them.

I spent much of my earlier years thinking they were a nifty bowl for washing your feet. Now I actually have one I mostly use it to shave my legs or as a handy sort of side-table for the toilet.

The subject of the bidet popped up in a conversation recently with a group of Italians at a bar, when a story ended 'AND THERE WAS NO BIDET'. The horror around the table was palpable.

Obviously I've never used one. I just kept schtum. That was until someone slyly turned their head and said '...you English though. Why you don't use?'

There is no delicate way to have a conversation about bidets. It involves speaking of all the things your mother trained you not to talk about. I turned into a sort ofMary Poppins - Margaret Thatcher hybrid, practically proclaiming 'I will not speak of bums and poo in public'.

But they were genuinely bemused and curious as to how us foreigners got along without them. 'How do you get clean?!''What do you do?!' 'Don't you feel dirty?!'

Started to feel rather ashamed of self and felt bit like Neanderthal. May as well have sat there scratching pits and plucking out bits of dandruff from people's scalps.

One particularly distinctive characteristic of the Italians, is that they are obsessed with digestive systems and they have an intimate understanding of their bowels. They know whether they can eat fruit after vegetables. They know how long it will take to digest their pasta. They wait three hours to go for a swim after eating a banana to be on the safe side. I can't imagine my nan saying 'did you pass' the day after eating an exceptionally large bowl of mashed fava beans, like an elderly Italian woman said to me.

I think that's probably when you know you've become a bit Italian. It has nothing to do with verbs. It's when you learn how to use a bidet and can happily relay the habits of your bowels to people who aren't your doctor.