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Italy vs. Britain - Excuse me, where’s the bidet?

Marzo 2017
Se c’è un oggetto che divide italiani e inglesi è proprio questo. Come si fa a non averlo in bagno, diciamo noi. Ma a cosa serve, chiedono loro. Diciamo che anche la pulizia è un fattore culturale...

di Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts
Rachel Roberts

Whenever one of my Italian students spends some time studying in the UK, I always ask them to tell me about their experiences, particularly about anything they didn’t like. Usually they find it hard to come up with negative aspects, because their visit was too short. You have to really live in a country, rent or buy a house there, work there and establish a circle of friends before you can identify what it is that makes you uncomfortable.


However there is always one aspect of British culture that Italians have problems with on day one: the absence of a bidet in the bathroom.
This problem particularly afflicts young people staying in host families. Although
you may sometimes find a bidet in larger, more luxurious homes, it is still regarded as an upper-class object, used by people who have travelled. Having a bidet in your bathroom is a bit like having a bottle of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil in your kitchen. Olive oil was sold in chemists for removing earwax until about the 1980s in the UK; today its use in cooking is more common. Unfortunately, the bidet is a far more recent, less widespread development.

foreign parts

This will make you laugh. The first time I ever saw a bidet was on a school trip to France when I was about 11. I stayed in a room with some other girls and we were amazed by the strange mini-toilet in our bathroom. “It’s for washing bums!” whispered one girl, who’d travelled abroad before. We gazed at her in shocked silence. How could the French be so vulgar as to have an object obviously designed for the washing of one’s lower region?


We couldn’t resist asking our teacher about it when she came in. She closed her eyes and looked terribly embarrassed. In the end she managed to say, “Some people wash their feet in it.”
Why the embarrassment? To our English way of thinking, having an object in your bathroom that was obviously designed to wash your bottom, meant that your bottom might actually need washing. What a horrible idea!


Of course I see things very differently now. When I go home to my own family’s house I hate not having a bidet, so I completely understand young Italians’ discomfort. You end up using so much toilet paper it really isn’t ecological, and trying to sit in the sink can expose your buttocks to a nasty burn on the hot tap!
On the subject of hygiene, I honestly think that most Italian households have a higher standard of cleanliness than you would find in the UK. My mother is very house-proud  and she always made me do the chores when I was young, but even I had to adapt when I came to Italy. At my daughter’s nursery, all the parents used to meet once a month to give the place a thorough clean. Once I was cleaning a classroom, and, anxious to make a good impression, I scrubbed every inch of the room.


Towards the end of the morning an Italian mum looked in and said, “Oh, Rachel. You’ve forgotten to do the top of the skirting board.”
“Oh, yes, silly me!” I answered, thinking, “What? The top of the skirting board? Whoever cleans that?” Italians do apparently.
Well, you won’t find many shiny skirting boards in the UK. In fact, if you’re a student and you’re thinking of moving into student accommodation, perhaps in a residence, then beware: it is a mark of honour among most British students that their living spaces should be extremely untidy and that their kitchens should resemble an experiment in bacterial growth. Although things improve when the British students move into their own homes, kitchens in university residences and student flats are likely to be an unpleasant shock for newly arrived Italian students.

italian style

What’s my advice? As far as the bidet problem is concerned, parents sending their kids abroad and worried that their little buttocks might not be as perfumed as usual, should make sure they have a store of wet wipes in their suitcase.
In the kitchen, on the other hand, you should definitely maintain your standards. Don’t learn from the British and start heating up convenience food in a microwave and leaving your dirty plates to rot in the sink. Try introducing your British friends to some decent pasta cooked in a hygienic environment. They’ll appreciate you for it and it’s a great way to make friends.

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Bum, bottom, buttocks, lower region. Ecco una splendida carrellata di sinonimi per descrivere il fondoschiena, dal più colloquiale (bum) al più raffinato (lower region), passando per il termine anatomico ‘natiche’ (buttocks). Roberts è un’autrice che ama il linguaggio rispettoso, quindi non si è spinta ai sinonimi più volgari. Ve li diamo noi: arse (BE), ass (AE), butt (AE; un’abbreviazione di buttocks) back passage, hind parts (“le parti posteriori”), khyber (BE) e jacksie (BE).