Washroom etiquette

September 3, 2012, 10:16 am

Note: Your fair blogger is reading one of the Parasol Protectorate novels, and she has been bitten by the Victorian bug of manners and etiquette. Hence, I shall be channeling this post via Ms. Tarabotti, who is somewhat repulsed by the washroom behaviors of the modern academic female. (The pictures, though, are the product of LesboProf herself.) That said, if the readers’ own sensibilities are offended by the topic, please feel free to ignore this particular blog entry and move on to another.**

The worst thing about my new position is the loss of a private washroom. (Yes, I know that we Americans call it a bathroom, but washroom seems so much more civilized, doesn’t it? Bless the Canadians and their quaint ways.) Whereas few academics have private washrooms, most academic buildings these days have some single-stall restrooms scattered throughout the building. Those single stalls serve several useful purposes: allowing transgender folk to go to the bathroom without anxiety over being castigated for using what someone assumes to be the “wrong” bathroom; providing an opportunity for parents to take their child to the bathroom regardless of anyone’s gender/sex; and giving those who might need, perhaps, a little more time in the washroom, a place to be without worrying about discomfiting the people in the other stalls. But alas, your fair blogger has taken a position in a building with only large, many-stalled bathrooms that are shared amongst students, faculty, staff, and visitors alike. This congregate setting leads to reflections on what I believe to be missing pieces of public restroom etiquette amongst the academic set. Thus, I shall set below a list of guidelines for the shared restroom:

  1. One should not converse with another person while either of them is in the stalls. The most egregious violation of this rule is when one person comes into the restroom and starts a conversation with someone who is already IN the restroom. Nothing is more disconcerting than when someone comes into the bathroom and says, “Ah, LesboProf, is that you? I recognize your shoes…” and proceeds to start a conversation about some workplace topic. I have an office, people, and that is where the discussion belongs!  One friend, caught in such a delicate situation, told me she replied to the chatty visitor, “I am kind of busy in here.” (I am definitely taking this reply and filing it away for future use.) This no-talking rule is especially true when there are other people in the bathroom, as such conversation leaves out the others while requiring that they listen. Thus, it is the height of rudeness. So, if one has started a conversation in the hallway, it should be ended as quickly as possible upon entering the washroom.
  2. Do not take or make a cell phone call while in the bathroom. This is a corollary to the last guideline. Talking to another person on a cell phone while in a public restroom represents the height of disrespect for other patrons as well as the person on the other end of the phone. Time spent in the washroom is private time, and it should in no way become a shared moment. The call can wait; let it go to voice mail.
  3. Always leave room between yourself and a person already in a stall. When you have entered a washroom that has at least four stalls, and someone is in the first stall, it is best to select a stall that is at least one stall away from the other person. This distance is respectful and allows the other person some sense of privacy. No one should take a stall next to another person unless there is no choice. Any other choice is lazy.
  4. Most comments in the washroom are better left unsaid. Many untoward things occur in the washroom. Ladies of a certain age almost always pass gas when sitting down on a commode, and one should never acknowledge that this happened. Similarly, washrooms exist for the disposal of all sorts of waste, and one should not be offended or shocked when people appropriately make use of them, particularly when people work in offices for at least eight hours every day. Nor should one comment on any aftereffects of such an experience. Should someone have truly delicate sensibilities, she could bring a scent-neutralizing spray and leave it in the bathroom, alongside soaps and lotions. (That said, one should be careful about choosing and using such sprays, as they can aggravate asthma and chemical sensitivities amongst other workers.)
  5. Take responsibility for the upkeep of the washroom. If you use the last of the tissue paper, be sure to replace the roll or, if you have industrial dispensers that require special implements to open, leave a note for future visitors. Pick up paper towels that have not made it to the trash bin. And for the love of all that is holy, make sure that the commode has flushed. Automatic washrooms do not always function correctly, but they always have a way to manually activate the flushing mechanism. The most attractive washrooms I have seen were in buildings where the women staff actually competed to have the nicest restrooms. Baskets of lotions, soaps, and other ablutions were complimented by sprays of silk flowers and framed pictures. Making the workplace washroom into a more comfortable and welcoming space is always an improvement.

Lest you become overwhelmed by the number of guidelines, I will end my reflection on bathroom etiquette with an overarching quote from the actress Leah Ramini, “There’s a lot involved in going to the bathroom for women.” I simply encourage all women to make the best of our shared washrooms, so that we might all be as comfortable as possible.

Because, as all the wisest philosophers say, shit happens.*


* One must remember that LesboProf is from New Jersey, after all, and cannot take on and maintain a Victorian England personae (and not curse) for the length of an entire blog entry.
** That means, in essence, don’t clutter up the comments with complaining. I don’t much want to hear it, and you must have better things to do.


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