There are some unusual things about our apartment. There are, of course, the separate beds. There are the matching Converse on our shoe rack (can you say twinsies?). And, the pièce de résistance, there's the bidet in our bathroom. It's not an American thing, a bidet, and it draws more controversy than if we had an original Jackson Pollock hanging on our bathroom wall. But I've come to discover that conversation about our bidet reveals less about me than it does the guest who comments upon it. And people's discomfort with it gets to the heart of why I believe some struggle to love outside the lines of what’s familiar.
There's a fascinating survey that purports to predict your political persuasions without asking about a single political belief. Instead, it asks you seemingly irrelevant questions such as your feelings about strange foods and dead bodies. If you haven't heard of it, I encourage you to go take it before reading on. What they assert is that the more easily disgusted a person is, the more likely he or she is to have strong traditional views. And the more open people are to unusual foods and uncomfortable situations, the more liberal their outlook is likely to be. If true, it's an interesting phenomenon that touches upon important social issues. After all, the conservative church often describes LGBT people as aberrant, dysfunctional, and (my favorite Christian shade) abominations. They call displays of same-sex affection in public gross, and complain that their children shouldn’t have to witness such obscenities.
What does this have to do with our bidet (or, as one of our friend's children called it, our "spaceship toilet")? It’s a classic example of something “weird” that forces people to face their discomfort with something unfamiliar. Some guests have approached it with interest, humor, and sometimes even a hint of jealousy. Other guests have eyed it with suspicion and referred to it with mild derision, as if we’ve left something untoward lying about our apartment: “What is that thing in your bathroom?” I tell them, quite simply, it’s a shower for their butt. I invite them to try it. They never do.
The thing is, owning a bidet is not weird. It’s only weird to you. Most of Asia, Europe, and parts of South America use the bidet in the same way we use toilet paper. I became a fan of them after multiple trips to Asia, and Tino finally discovered their magic after traveling through Turkey and Eastern Europe during our honeymoon. It’s the common practice. In fact, people who use bidets would find it unsanitary to touch themselves with a thin piece of paper. To them, Americans are the weird ones. We are disgusting. All of which is to say, feelings of disgust are not objective. "Weird" does not equate to "wrong."
Take another example: my pink flip-flops. I needed shower shoes after joining the gym last January, but flip-flops are not easily come by in Portland during the height of winter. The only sandals I could find were a girl's pair at Goodwill, and they were fluorescent pink. I thoroughly sanitized them (having my own issues of disgust when it comes to strangers’ feet) and thought little of them but for their functionality. Some friends who have seen me in them have lauded my fashion sense; others have actually chided me for wearing women’s footwear. Members of my family asked me not to wear them in public; one even offered to buy me new sandals that very day. All of this hubbub over a color that wasn’t even considered feminine until after World War II (girls back then wore blue).
The point is, what is weird for one person may be completely normal for another—another culture, another generation, another palate. When people use discomfort as a defense for their disparagement, it means they lack the capacity to look beyond their myopic worldview. Think of the conservative church and their feelings toward the "deviant" LGBT community, or Trump supporters and their beliefs about the "thugs" of the Black Lives Matter movement. Those who allow their discomfort to diminish others will always be ruled by a kind of hard-heartedness that prevents them from loving anyone other than those who think and look like them.
I’ve stopped trying to convert certain guests to the bidet lifestyle. Those who see it as weird will always see it as weird. The best I can do is offer them another glass of wine and redirect the conversation. Let’s talk about sinks. There’s nothing weird about sinks.
David Khalaf is a fiction writer living in Portland.
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