A Strange Souvenir


Souvenirs. Tourists spend oodles of time and money in gift shops, wine shops, pottery studios and local artisan jewelers’ shops to find the right thing to serve as their tangible memory of a place. On our last trip to southern Italy, it wasn’t something that we bought there, but instead something we had delivered to our home that was the greatest reminder of how our trip changed us.

We bought a bidet.

Now, if you had asked us the day before we flew to Italy if we would buy a bidet, or even during the first couple days that we spent there, we would have laughed in your face. In fact, when we entered out hotel room and saw the little sink-toilet contraption, as we often do in European hotels, we did laugh. We always laugh, because bidets are funny. Until we got laughed at.

It happened one night up in the mountains of Agerola, high above the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. We had been invited to have drinks and dinner (and more drinks) with a couple we’d become fast friends with on our last trip to Italy. They had popped down to the piazza and picked us up in their minuscule Volkswagen Golf. The trip up the mountain on precariously narrow roads at roller coaster speeds put my motion-sickness into overdrive of course, but everyone else was laughing and talking and speaking some kind of hybrid English-Italian that was almost intelligible.

We stopped at a friend’s house for homemade ricotta cheese, and at someone’s aunt’s place for her special-recipe limoncello. We finally arrived at our friends’ apartment and found ourselves cuddled up over glasses of Aperol Spritz, nibbling on the local delicacies we’d procured on our way. While we sipped and chewed, we were given a tour of the bright and fresh little home, nestled so sweetly close to the hills.

Inevitably we came to the awkward part of any home tour, wherein the guide says, “and here’s the bathroom” and everyone is thinking, “Yes, I know what that is for” and the whole tour kind of sputters into weirdness until you come to the next room. Except … except the tile work in their bathroom was really quite beautiful, and I lingered a little too long looking at it. Which caused more weirdness. So, I found a way to completely smooth things out by saying, “Oh, the bidet. We never see those in the United States.”

Our hosts turned to each other and laughed, speaking in rapid-fire Italian. Their eyes came back to us, their naïve American friends, and our hostess spoke, “Yes, this is a big joke in Italy. Whenever Americans act like they are better than other people, we say, ‘Yes, but they do not use bidet.’” To which our host added, “Bidet is very important: the only way to be clean.”

We pondered this inconvenient truth the rest of the night. With each clink of our glasses and every delicacy shared, our minds were whirring with this information. When they dropped us off at our hotel that night, we were a little less smug than when they had picked us up.

…Which is why we were overjoyed to come home to our new bidet, purchased online and sitting patiently at our doorstep, waiting to civilize us. As they say, “When in Rome …” ♦


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