Why Haven’t Americans Embraced the Bidet?

Crocodile Dundee is one of the most loved and successful movies of the 1980’s. One of the main plot lines of the story relates to how Mick, the main character and Australian “cowboy” of the Outback, encounters and ultimately adjusts to the “strange conventions of civilization.” In the clip above, Mick encounters a bidet for the first time in the bathroom of the fancy Plaza Hotel in New York. This hilarious scene, where Mick tinkers with the device while his companion Sue awkwardly attempts to explain to him what a bidet is, highlights two main issues with bidets in America: lack of familiarity with the product and a generalized discomfort with talking openly about matters relating to toilet hygiene.

Although the scene above occurs in New York City, with the exception of very high-end hotels, bidet or bidet toilet attachments are largely absent from most American bathrooms. This runs contrary to many countries, particularly in Asia, Europe and South America, where people are have embraced and highly reliant on bidets for toilet hygiene. Researchers have attempted to understand this phenomenon including Harvey Molotch, a New York University professor of social cultural analysis and the author of the 2003 book “Where Stuff Comes From: How Toasters, Toilets, Cars, Computers and Many Other Things Come to Be as They Are.” His contention is that the American public’s rejection of the bidet is related to its association with sexuality.

The bidet, which was invented by French furniture makers in the early 18th century, was rejected by Victorian English consumers, who deemed the imports as tainted with hedonism and sexuality. According to Professor Molotch, that sentiment traveled to America, where incidences such as public protests over installation of bidets in upscale hotels in Manhattan, demonstrated the American public’s moral uneasiness with the device. That sentiment was only reinforced during World War II, when American soldiers encountered bidets in European brothels, perpetuating the idea that bidets where associated with immorality.

This view however seems to be slowly changing as Americans travel more, immigration exposes Americans to new customs and issues of sexuality are discussed more in the mainstream media. This appears to be making Americans more comfortable with bidets. The National Kitchen and Bath Association kept statistics on bidets for the first time in 2006, and according to Ed Pell, the group’s manager of market research, of the 5.3 million bathrooms built in the United States that year, more than 650,000 included one. Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding: almost without fail, most people who give bidets/bidet attachments a try become hooked for life; many of them even become fanatical. My favorite reaction to an American bidet user comes from David Sax, a writer for online publication Good, where he waxes poetically on his devotion to the bidet:

“I am a fan of the bidet toilet seat. No, wait, not a fan. That’s too mild a term. I have been a fanatical, unquestioning devotee of the bidet toilet seat since the first time I used one in a hotel in Japan. It is my water closet’s personal messiah, the pinnacle of my morning constitutional. I have lived two lives: the itchy wilderness before my bidet toilet seat and the garden of delights that followed. When I am on vacation without it, I feel cast back into the desert, with nothing to clean myself with but squares of paper. In those moments, I feel no better than a filthy savage.”

So, what are you waiting for? Join the bidet revolution and feel the cleanest you’ve ever felt in your life!

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