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By Travel columnist
updated 9/15/2006 7:29:46 PM ET 2006-09-15T23:29:46

I get out of town a fair amount and consider myself to be in the top quartile of sophistication when it comes to knowing what’s what when traveling. But I am an ignoramus when it comes to bidets.

As a born-and-bred American, I had never come across bidets until I traveled to Europe after high school. There I was confronted with those curious fixtures that looked like toilets whose seats had gone missing. They also had peculiar bubblers in the middle.

As I traveled, I found several variations to this basic design, e.g., stereo water streams, stoppers in the basin, electronic controls. But what were they? Because they were always located in bathrooms, near the toilets, I could eliminate several possibilities: They were not for soaking dishes, nor were they water fountains for short people. Hmm. They could be foot baths, or they could be used to ice down beer, or they could be …

Ohmygawd! I got it!

Once I understood the purpose, however, I was still in the dark about the procedure — and have remained so all these years. I should say that I am no longer a teenager — in fact, far from it — but I have been baffled by bidets ever since. Certainly I could not be alone in my ignorance. There must be thousands — no, millions — of Western travelers who encounter these porcelain puzzles every year. So I decided to put an end to my ignorance and finally figure out how to use these contraptions.

Off to my local bookstore I trotted in search of clues, if not instructions. I first consulted Fodor’s guides. Nothing. So I turned to Frommer’s. Nada. Then Let’s Go, Lonely Planet and Rick Steves. Zip, zero, zilch.

Slideshow: A European tour Finally, as I was about to leave the travel book section, I plucked “Europe for Dummies” from the shelf for a quick flip-through. There in the index (listed, interestingly enough, between Bewley’s Cafe in Dublin and Biergarten Chinesischer Turm in Munich) I spotted “Bidet.” Turning to the appropriate page, I found a single paragraph with a description of the device and its intended use but still no operational instructions.

Finding little in the way of anything like a user’s manual for bidets on the bookshelves, I returned home and turned to the Internet. Searching “How to use a bidet,” I discovered the information I was looking for. In fact I found way more information about bidets, plumbing and perineal hygiene than I was looking for — or really cared to know.

So if you are among the millions of naive travelers and bathroom-goers who have wondered how to operate these mysterious fixtures, I’ve got the answer. But don’t call me. Instead go to eHow or wikiHow. There you will find the straight poop on using bidets. (Hint: You may want to avoid reviewing this information during your lunch break.)

Having studied the operational information I’ve now found, I may or may not give these bidet gizmos a whirl, but one thing is certain: I’m for sure finding another way to ice down my beer.

It is with affection and sorrow that we say goodbye to Terry Riley, who has delighted and informed Tripso readers for the last seven years. This is his last regular column for us, and we thank him for elucidating this particular mystery, which has baffled us all. We wish Terry happy traveling wherever he goes. —Eds. and friends

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