Make sense of... The French bidet

Seen as amusing and mystifyingly foreign by many Brits, the bidet also went out of fashion in France but is making a comeback

Bidets are rare in British homes but almost all French bathrooms had them until around 30 years ago - as they still do in Italy.

They did not disappear completely but they became seen as ringard - old-fashioned and undesirable - partly due to lack of space in homes and the increasing popularity of showers.

In 1970, 95% of French bathrooms had one, but by 1993 the figure had dropped to just 42%.

French humorist Vincent Lagaf’, in a 1989 novelty song, seemed to echo the prevailing view when he sang that “il est beau le lavabo… il est laid le bidet” (the washbasin is beautiful, the bidet is ugly).

There is also a (somewhat rare) bidet-related insult raclure de bidet (bidet scrapings), and the similar rinçure de bidet (bidet rinsings), meaning something that is worthless.

According to academic Jean-Pierre Goubert, the poor bidet suffers from “a whole heritage of shame and opprobrium”. Notably because bidets were especially associated with brothels, before ...

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