Many places we've visited in the world provide bidets. England was hit and miss, but probably more hotels had them than didn't. If memory serves (it's been a few decades since we've been there), bidets were pretty universal in France, and were quite common in parts of South America. Here in Italy, it's rare to find a bathroom without one. Even some public restrooms provide them.
Bidets are not an American tradition, of course. Sure, many upper scale hotels provide them (again, if memory serves - it's been a long, long time since we've been on corporate expense accounts and actually stayed in an "upper scale hotel"), but we're unlikely to find one in our usual level of hotel... a Comfort Inn in Tucumcari, NM for example.
I've now been able to examine and ponder dozens of them across Italy. Some have little adjustable spray heads - some just have a bathtub type faucet. Most have stoppers, but some don't. Sometimes a little wrapped bar of soap is thoughtfully provided. Sometimes petite towels, presumably for drying oneself after the bidet experience, are provided. After having had the opportunity multiple times each day, however, I'm just a little embarrassed to admit that I've yet to use one. I've even been tempted to dampen the little towels and unwrap the tiny bars of soap, just so the maid doesn't think I'm some filthy cretin who can't be bothered with basic bidet hygiene. It's time to figure these porcelain mysteries out. After all, when in Rome...
First, let me say that I do know what the function of a bidet is. In the immortal words of that great Australian philosopher, Crocodile Dundee, "It's for washing your backside, mate". I'm just not sure of the practical details... do you use the stopper and fill the basin up? Do you aim the little spray head at the appropriate body parts, and if so, how do you prevent water from getting everything else wet? Or do you just sort of splash water where it's supposed to go? How often do most people use one? After each trip to the toilet or maybe just before before bed? And what about the drying off part? I think I understand the process when little towels are provided (and I'm oh so happy I'm not the one who has to replace the soiled towels), but I've been in public restrooms that had a bidet and nothing but a hot air hand dryer. Is one supposed to just 'air dry' or are Italians taught from childhood how to position themselves alongside the blower so they can dry their dampened parts?
There are just so many questions. Fortunately I have access to the internet, and not surprisingly, there is no shortage of information available. WikiHow provides a nice tutorial, and there are several YouTube videos on the subject. Time to do some research and figure the process out.
It's now a couple of days later - I've done my homework and tried a couple of bidets. Here's what I've found out:
They are primarily intended to be used in addition to toilet paper after using the toilet, although they are often utilized before bedtime to 'freshen up'.
In Italy, most of the bidets I've encountered have water jets on the back (wall) side, but apparently many also have jets located on the bottom of the basin and shoot water upwards.
The process is to adjust the temperature and strength of the water jet, then straddle the bidet. Apparently, many find it preferable to face the wall, as it is easier to adjust the water if you are facing the controls. I prefer to straddle it as I would a toilet because the water reaches the intended area better (the parts of me that hang down sorta block the water - probably less of a problem for women), and if I face the wall, I pretty much have to remove my trousers and shorts first. Use your hand to clean the anus area.
Dry yourself using toilet paper (or the air hand dryer if you're flexible enough). The little towel is for drying your hands - and I'm certainly glad I found this out before I embarrassed myself.
That's it. I actually kind of like using them. There were several additional hints and pointers provided by the various websites, and two were particularly interesting:
Don't use the bidet for bathing your baby.
Don't drink from the bidet.
Finally, we spotted this sign in a public restroom on bathroom etiquette, and while it has nothing to do with bidets, we thought was worth sharing: