Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Phone on the Toilet

The other day I walked into the men's room, straight into a dilemma. When I entered the restroom, there was a guy in one of the stalls, sitting on the throne, talking. We were the only two people in the room, so for a moment I got very worried, because men, as a rule, do not talk to each other in the restroom.

The only time it is acceptable to have a conversation in the men's room is when you are with a friend, and located two or more urinals away from each other, or at the sinks. It is not acceptable to carry on a conversation with a friend from adjacent urinals, or from two or more urinals away if there is a stranger at one of the urinals between you, and it is never acceptable to carry on a conversation from a stall.

A perfunctory "howdy," or "hey," or the preferred silent upward head nod can be extended to a stranger at the bank of urinals, but only if accidental eye contact has been made. Any deliberate or excess stranger-to-stranger eye contact at the urinals is strictly forbidden. No talking or eye contact of any kind is allowed if circumstances require you to be at adjacent urinals.

Speaking of adjacent urinals, the only time you should be right next to another guy at the bank of urinals is when there are only two of them, or there are a lot but the rest of them were full and it was unavoidable. Walking up to the adjacent urinal if there is another one available further away is considered very, very bad form. You are even required to use the super-low-to-the-ground children’s urinal before resorting to side by side.

Basically, we try very hard not to talk to each other or get too close to each other when in the restroom. Even the friend-to-friend urinal conversations should be kept to an absolute minimum. The sinks are really the only acceptable location for restroom communications, but again, only the amount of perfunctory chit chat required to maintain a civilized environment, and nothing more.

Now, back to the stalls. Speaking to other people in the bathroom from inside the stalls is strictly off-limits. This is a hard-and-fast rule. If the toilet backs up on you, or you run out of toilet paper, you’re on your own. A man following proper restroom etiquette will sacrifice his own socks before he would ask for some toilet paper from inside the stall.

We are so serious about the stall rules, that if you happen to be occupying the only stall in a particular restroom, you will clear your throat or shake the newspaper every time you hear the restroom door open, in order to signal that the stall is in use. This is a universal notification of stall occupancy, meant to avoid the awkward moment when the newcomer attempts to open the locked stall door, forcing the stall occupant to say, “occupied,” and making both men feel uncomfortable.

So, back to my dilemma from a few days ago, I walked into a restroom situation where three very strict rules were being broken. There was a lot of talking going on by him, we were strangers, and he was in a stall. I would have turned right around and left, but I realized a second or two later that he was on the phone.

In the stall. Sitting on the toilet. On the phone.

On the timeline of the modern flush toilet, cell phones are a relatively new phenomenon, and it is very obvious that we, as men who use public restrooms, need to get our arms around this problem. Cell phones have made it possible to talk with someone outside the restroom, while you are inside doing your business. Just because it is possible, however, does not make it OK. Like nuclear weapons, just because you have them, doesn’t automatically mean you should use them.

Since I realized he was not talking to me, I stayed in the restroom. I had gone in only to wash my hands, so I took care of that, and it was as I finished up at the sink that my dilemma came. This particular bathroom was brand new, and had no paper towels of any kind. The only means of drying your hands was the air blower mounted to the wall next to the sinks. I had been using this bathroom all week, and I knew all about the air blower. It was called the “XLERATOR,” and it sounded and felt a lot like a jet engine. It was so loud, I was actually a little worried about potential hearing loss from its use.

Here was my quandary. If I stuck my hands under the jet engine nozzle, the XLERATOR would fire up, and any type of phone conversation inside the room would be immediately impossible. That thing was so loud, it would even be hard to text near it.

Do I wait for him to get off the phone before I dry my hands?

That would be the polite thing to do. He would still be able to hear the person on the other end of the line, and I wouldn’t be forcing him to have the awkward conversation about what that noise was, or where he was. He could try to lie and say he’s at the airport out on the airfield, but most likely he would have to fess up.

On the other dripping wet hand, he should NOT be on the phone. I was well within my rights to go about my business, and firing up the 6000 decibel hand dryer and drowning out his conversation would ultimately teach him a lesson. The hopeful end result of the lesson would be one less guy in America who thinks it’s OK to talk on his cell phone in the bathroom.

His conversation ended as I was still standing at the sink, drip-drying my hands and contemplating what to do, so ultimately, no lesson was learned and no forward progress was made. He will probably go on to do it again.

While phone-stall talking is less uncomfortable for the other bathroom occupants than talking directly to them, it is still a serious no-no. The person on the phone is still talking to someone from the stall. It is a once-removed, long distance violation of the no talking in the stalls rule, but a violation nonetheless.

I’m not sure what all you cell phone stall talkers out there are thinking, but you need to knock it off. You are breaking the guy code by ignoring the men’s room rules, and you need to take it outside.

As for you ladies, I have no idea what your bathroom code of ethics looks like, but I would imagine, like most other things, it’s 180 degrees from the men’s. You probably chat with strangers from stall to stall, and share toilet paper under the walls. It’s unthinkable.

You will have to decide on your own what to do about cell phones in the ladies’ restroom. I’m not getting in the middle of it. Just please don’t call us from the stall. And don’t answer our calls, either. That’s a twice-removed, long distance violation of the men’s no talking in the stalls rule, but a violation nonetheless.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. I always wondered about the men's rules. Do you really want to know how it works in the ladies room? Sometimes it seems like anything goes. This may be a bit long but hopefully informative. First rule: avoid public bathrooms at all costs. But eventually you'll have to use one. First you always go with someone. This may be your friend or relative but usually a child (or two). There are very few times you wouldn't want a buddy. Unless that buddy is a two year old, but we'll get to that later. Let's say the worst case scenario: you have a horrible bathroom emergency. Well you don't have to go it alone. Sure its embarrassing, but maybe she can hold your purse, watch your kid, help dry things on the drier. She might have stain remover or meds in her purse. She can guard the stall so to speak, against other women trying to get in before your done. Maybe she needs more toilet paper? Doesn't hurt to ask. Also, if you are a woman with a child, its really almost impossible to be embarrassed by any bodily function at this point. As long as the door is closed all is well. I'd say that's the only hard and fast rule, door must be closed. But enter kids and even that rule might bend a bit. Aside from having someone for friendly chit chat (talking is a-ok, but dependent on the personality of the woman I'd say) your buddy is good for reconn. In a huge bank of stalls your mission is to find the one that is the least "compromised" and has toilet paper. A working lock is debatable. Women's stalls are infamous for running out of damn toilet paper. Usually your buddy selects the cleanest stall in closest proximity to yours. Are you horrified yet? The only reason she wouldn't is if she is anticipating a rather unpleasant time and she moves farther away out of courtesy! But usually that stall is compromised so... Another common thing is to warn strangers out of courtesy (at least that's how I was raised!) if there is no toilet paper, or a stall seems horribly compromised. Back to the toddler. You can expect at some point in your public restroom using life to have a toddler (not yours) have a peek at what you're up to in there. They might fiddle your shoe laces or say "hi!!" It's not really that uncomfortable until its your own kid trying to do it to others. If its your own kid there is zero privacy, but hey you're used to that at home! They love to touch everything, especially the floor, the dirtiest place in the bathroom. All women know, you don't touch anything but what you have to in a public restroom. So if you have a friend and your kid doesn't have to use the potty, sometimes its best to leave her out there with your kid while you go. Then you can do the same for her. I would say cell phone use would be discouraged on the grounds that it makes a woman less aware her surroundings and less helpful to her buddies, kids, or strangers, not on the basis of just talking or that the person on the other line would know you're in the bathroom. Also its not sanitary. But you can give it to your toddler to keep her from touching the floor.

  2. That was entirely too much information for a guy like me. Is it too late to say, "No thanks. I don't want to know what happens in the ladies room."?

    When I take my boys into the men's room, I am constantly telling them, "Shhh. Keep it down. We don't talk in here!" I didn't know they were getting the opposite lesson with my wife in the ladies room. They must be confused!

    Thanks for all the good info!