Why did the French invent the bidet but don’t use it? In Italy not having it is illegal

It’s one of the first things we Italians we check when we travel abroad: the presence or absence of the bidet in the bathroom. Not only that, the sanitary appliance has also become a source of mockery towards the French, who we believe are guilty of having invented it, but of not using it. In fact, the bidet was most likely invented in France In the Middle Ages (although similar devices already existed in Ancient Rome), but it has begun to spread in some upper-class and noble homes only between 17th and 18th century. Its original name, bidetbetrays his initial form and the way in which it was used: in French the word indicated and indicates the pony (or little horse) and in fact originally the bidet was a tub or basin supported by four legs which was filled with water and on which one sat astride to wash.

The first model of which we have a direct written mention (a memo dating back to 1726) is the one installed inside the house of Madame De Prielover of Louis-Henri de Bourbon-Condé, Prime Minister of the King of France Louis XV. Another famous example is the bidet painted by the artist Louis-Leopold Boilly in a portrait of the 1790. Also during the 18th century the bidet was also introduced in Italyinside the Royal Palace of Casertafrom the Queen of Naples, Maria Carolina of Habsburg-Lorraine. But why, despite having invented the bidet, do the French today rarely install and use it?

The intimate toilet or the effeuillée roseLouis–Léopold Boilly, oil on canvas, circa 1790

To answer this question we must briefly look at the use and diffusion that the bidet had between the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The sanitary device, in fact, was not initially very successful due to the poor attention to hygiene provided at the time. In fact, the belief was widespread that the water brought diseasesso much so that the nobles, rather than washing their hair, wore elaborate wigs.

On the contrary, at the same time, the erroneous belief spread among women (which remained in vogue until the 1900s) that washing one’s private parts after sexual intercourse could prevent pregnancy and was therefore a contraceptive method. The bidet was then introduced into the brothels Frenchfor the use of prostituteand became inextricably linked to the idea of ​​something profoundly immoral, especially from a religious point of view. In particular, the world Protestant (Anglo-Saxon and Germanic) came into contact with the bidet in the Parisian places of prostitution and developed a deeply negative cultural sentiment towards the appliance, so much so that even today in countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States of America itself, the bidet remains an absolute rarity and is sometimes even unknown.

Meanwhile, during the19th centuryafter the first ones were invented and implanted domestic water systemsthe bidet began to transform into a fixed appliance and to be installed in the bathroom. It then spread in secret, starting from Europe, to other parts of the world, such as South America and the Middle East.

The bidet installed in the Royal Palace of Caserta by the Queen of Naples Maria Carolina of Habsburg-Lorraine

The real one diffusion of the bidet in some countries, particularly those in southern Europe such as Italy, Portugal, Spain And Greecehowever, it only happened after the Second World War, with the economic boom and the consolidation of the consumer society. Indeed, think that in Portugal and Italy (ministerial decree of 5 July 1975), the installation of at least one bidet (or replacement appliance) inside homes is required by lawwith a hygienic-sanitary function. In other countries, such as Japan, however, the bidet is replaced with other devices or instruments (think of hybrid toilets or washlets and shower heads).

And in France? Unlike Italy, the homeland of the bidet since the Second World War (in particular since the 1970s) has progressively abandoned the use of the healthcare device for health issues saving space and moneyespecially inside the apartments of the big cities like Paris. Contrary to popular belief, however, the bidet in France remains quite widespread and used, certainly much more than in other countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom and the USA (where, however, it is slowly spreading).