shut out

June 2, 2009

You get a lot of people with opinions on bathroom etiquette. For example, all men know that talking should be kept to a minimum in a bathroom. Really. No talking business, no talking movies, just no talking. Especially if you’re sitting. In fact, let me just say, no talking while you’re sitting. You can get away with some light conversation while you’re standing.

I’m pretty sure the difference in how strictly we enforce the no talking rule between standing and sitting stems from the amount of effort being expended. You know?

Anyway, I have an area of bathroom etiquette I’m unclear on, which really, at my advanced age, shocks me. How could I not know, since I’ve used public restrooms pretty much, well, forever.

Here it is–barring large bathrooms like those you find at stadiums, movie theaters, symphony hall, and my brother’s house, what’s the proper procedure when you head for the bathroom and walk in confidently, only to discover ALL stalls and urinals occupied? Like, here’s MY work bathroom:


What’s my plan for walking in and finding nothing but the sink free? Do I queue up behind the urinal guy? Do I wait near the door, trying not to act interested or desperate? Play with my phone?

I’m talking about bathrooms with maybe one urinal and two stalls, that sort of thing. Not a large space, and certainly not a comfortable one. Not a place I want to hang out in.

I say, you leave immediately and either loiter at the fax/copy machine, or go back to your cube (if it’s nearby) and listen for the flush (which, lamentably, I CAN hear from my cube). Then saunter back to the bathroom like you don’t really need it. Try to maintain some dignity.

But at the same time, remember, accidents are NEVER dignified.

61 Responses to “shut out”

  1. Eliz Says:

    So……….women have that happen all the time. We just stand in line because there usually is one. But I can understand that this was your first time to be in that particular situation. Guy bathrooms usually don’t have lines. I’d leave too.

    • dug Says:

      eliz, i’m not saying it’s never happened to me, i’m just saying, i don’t know the standard response. my inclination is to flee.

    • mark Says:

      Right before the start of the Draper I-cup race, there was a huge line for the men’s room and no line for the women’s. I asked the women if it was gratifying to see the tables turned. They did indeed enjoy the moment and some were even found loitering in the general area as if it were a pleasant dream from which they did not want to be awakened.

  2. Jeff Says:

    Where I work, I can always leave and head for another restroom – the beauty of having 4 restrooms in the building. Some day I’m going to utilize all four in one day…some day…

  3. MOCougFan Says:

    If you pull out your phone when waiting “in line” people are gonna get real nervous. Esp if they know YOU.

    Just sayin I’d play with something else before you play with your phone.

  4. fish Says:

    We’re a multi-floor outfit, so I head straight to another bathroom. I do so even if one stall is full – not a big fan of audio, much less olfactory, spectating in the bathroom.

  5. Eber Says:

    surprisingly A LOT of people talk on the phone IN the stall. I make sure never to let that opportnity pass with out passing a little something myself. making sure its all grumbly and loud.

  6. KanyonKris Says:

    My sense is there is no “right thing to do” in this situation, hence the varied responses observed.

    I usual stay in the bathroom. From the photo, I’d stay in that bathroom if full. I came in for a purpose, and that didn’t change because there’s no vacancy. And it feels weird to retreat. Might as well just wait. Don’t look at those doing their business – look at the wall, floor, ceiling and use peripheral vision to monitor the situation. Unless it stinks in there, or it’s so small people can’t move around (i.e. toilet to sink) – then I leave.

    But I admit when I discover it’s full, I also feel the urge to flee. Fight (stay) or flight instinct. The other occupants know the deal so I don’t think they care either way – stay or go.

    Agreed, keep talking to a minimum. My previous office was in a building with a high-pressure telemarketing group. One guy came in talking on his cell and kept talking while he used the urinal next to me. I’m sure the caller could hear the bathroom sounds, especially since I flushed good (should have done it twice) and washed up real noisy. The guy didn’t seem to care.

    • dug Says:

      kk, i’m gonna have to disagree. i say you run. and when you say they don’t care, i also disagree. that is, when I’M the one using the urinal and someone stands behind me, i CARE. go away.

      • KanyonKris Says:

        Upon further consideration, perhaps that bathroom is too small and intimate for queuing up. Yes, creepy to have someone behind you while you pee. But I always felt trapped once I went in. Thankfully JZ provided the out I needed – throwing something away in the trash can (or just faking it). I will adopt this new behavior. Except for the Beaver, Utah Wendys which has such demand if you aren’t assertive you’re never gunna get relief.

        dug, I like the added realism of having someone in a stall for the photo.

  7. JZ Says:

    If you are at a gas station you stand and wait. If at work, you leave go to another bathroom or back to your cubicle/office and try again in a few minutes after you hear the flush and after allowing enough time for the bathroom fan to do its work. If you stay and wait then your total bathroom time becomes too long and risk the walk of shame of emerging from the work bathroom a half-an-hour later.

    At my office we have just a one occupant co-ed bathroom on each floor (like at home), which is impossible to enter or exit without being observed by the secretary and other employees, which makes me ultra-sensitive to the walk of shame. Of course it doesn’t stop me from finishing the game on my phone or the article in Utah Business.

    The single user co-ed bathroom really creates some awkward situations. Everyone can hear what is going on in there – no. 1 (although if you can hit the area above the water but below the rim you can stealth pee), loud no. 2, the spraying of air freshener, washing of hands or lack thereof, multiple flushings, crying (hey some days are tough), etc.

    Once when I entered the third floor bathroom to take care of no. 1 it became immediately obvious that the prior user had not used the air freshener and I had not allowed sufficient air clearing time. But I had to go so I just toughed it out. The problem was that when I opened the door to leave the brand new female associate was standing there ready to use the bathroom. I froze, knowing that I would get unfairly blamed for the lingering stench, I wanted to say something, but I didn’t really know her yet so I just awkwardly said hi and walked away. Now, if it is stinky I just pretend I was throwing something in the garbage and leave.

    And don’t get me started on the guy that regularly leaves the back of the toilet spackled if you know what I mean. There is a toilet brush right there!

    • dug Says:

      joel, you said a mouthful there, brother.

      “And don’t get me started on the guy that regularly leaves the back of the toilet spackled if you know what I mean.”

      it’s all about angle of aperture. which, as far as i can tell, CAN be controlled.

      • JZ Says:

        Exactly. I don’t even know how they get it there. I think you would have to try. But regardless, if you do it, take care of it before it dries and stays there for a week. Yeah, our bathrooms only get cleaned once a week.

        • Gary Says:

          What about the guy that sits and still manages to “paint” the back of the seat. What’s with that buy and why hasn’t someone euthanized him down yet?

  8. Steve Says:

    tough it out and hang if not too stinky. If the stink lingers beyond your own time in the bathroom most of the air fresheners have a push button you can manually push to help ease your departure or help you endure until the stall opens. Absolutely make as much noise as possible if anyone is on a phone. Make it up if you have to. Go ahead, play with your phone. You know where its been.

    New question? What is the etiquette for when you walk in on someone who forgot to lock the door or if you have someone do that to you? Look for another job?

    • dug Says:

      steve, yes, either you or your co-worker must seek new employment. at a new location. maybe in another state.

  9. Clay Says:

    Leave immediately. A person who lingers is worse than one that talks.

  10. andy Says:

    we have 3 urinals in ours. one of the man-laws i hold most near and dear is the alternating urinal law. you never choose the one next to another dude if you can avoid it.

    when a guy chooses the middle one when the 3rd one is available, i feel like peeing in his shoes.

    • dug Says:

      andy, you speak the truth. that’s the etiquette i AM clear on.

      • MOCougFan Says:

        Worst yet is when your at some kind of a stadium where they have the pee urinals that are more like peeing in a tub. No separation or barriers. And some drunk dude saddle’s right up next to you and starts talking and peeing. You never know if your gonna get splashed by him or not.

  11. bikemike Says:

    if all pieces of equipment are in use and i have to go REALLY, REALLY bad, and it’s especially no.3, i usually stick my finger down my throat and throw up. clears the room real quick and the smell of your own vomit doesn’t bother you and ensures that no one else will bother you.

    does this help?

    • dug Says:

      well, it helps me to know YOU better, anyway.

      • bikemike Says:

        wait, did i just say that out loud? uhhh, oops and stuff.
        dang it, it sounded waaaayy funnier (and more helpful) in my head.

        • stevenbpt Says:

          It was quite funny!! However, the smell of your own vomit still makes me want to vomit more. Perhaps this would help empty the bathroom also.

  12. VA BIker Says:

    Dug, I totally agree with your suggested method of just waiting outside. It is a bit more touchy with folks you know and work with, I’d say.

    If it’s a more anonymous situation, I’d queue-up near the door, but certainly not at any stall door or behind some dude at a urinal.

    While we’re at it, I really hate the Pi**ing Wall at some older stadiums and such. The type with no lateral barriers and just a “rinse away” water feed down the wall or trough. Very old school, and not very comfortable, unless having consuming a lot of alcohol and I don’t care who the heck I’m going next to; just in need of blessed relief…

  13. UtRider Says:

    Sometimes I’ll use the urinal and wash my hands to kill a bit of time but If I’m not actively engaged in bathroom business I’ll leave. The key is not to let your condition progress to a state of emergency. Recognize the need and take action without delay. That way if you need to put yourself on the bench for 5-10 minutes it’s ok.

    In our old office that had a single stall in the mens bathroom things could get dicey in the hour after lunch. One of my coworkers (I’ll bet mark can guess who) would come in and, if the stall was occupied, pull out a book and read until it was vacated. One day I happened to be the guy in the stall and, in a moment of defiance, I told him I would be a while so he didn’t need to wait inside. He replied that if I didn’t hurry up he’d start singing. And he did. Seriously. I was out of there 30 seconds later.

    • KanyonKris Says:


      You better give dug a full description of this guy because if they ever meet at the same bathroom it’s going to be like matter and anti-mater – worlds colliding.

    • mark Says:

      I think this guy just asked me if I wanted to join him for lunch. I know exactly who it is. And I’m now exceedingly more grateful to be a 7:00 in the morning kind of guy.

    • dug Says:

      i mean, cmon! you might as well take your book to the local sewage treatment plant and read on a bench next to the pond.

  14. Jdub Says:

    What about the guy who rattles each stall door instead of looking for shoes?… that should be illegal – unless the guy in the stall is talking on his cell phone.

  15. Big Boned Says:

    To keep this somewhat short:
    1) Flee
    2) Never, EVER, play with your phone. Talking on it in the men’s room should be punishable by death.
    3) Andy’s comment reminded me of one of the best jokes I ever played on someone. I was the Army assigned to the SF Group in Colorado Springs and my 1st Sergeant was a tough, crusty old dude that had a sense of humor. He was always pranking us. I decided to get even. My office adjoined his, so I waited for him to go the the john. I followed him in. He was standing at the urinal, I stood at the next one. I pulled a water bottle with a “stream” setting out of my pocket and sprayed it down his pant leg and onto his boots…almost got my ass whipped for that!
    He thought it was funny…later.

    • KanyonKris Says:

      Bold of you to do that urinal to urinal.

      The safer way I’ve seen this done is stall to stall. The victim is less likely to pursue and if he does you have more warning / head start.

  16. Geoff Says:

    Here’s a scenario that happens to me rather frequently, and it is always baffling.

    The men’s room on our floor (our company occupies floors 24, 25, and 26) has four stalls (one handicapped) and three urinals. Just to set the scene…

    So, I usually dump at about the same time every day. One day, I’m just destroying the ozone layer in there, and a guy saunters in the restroom and lingers at the sinks. I’m wondering what he’s doing. The water comes on…and the guy STARTS BRUSHING HIS TEETH. I swear, the air is absolutely toxic in there (because of me, of course), but this guy is taking his time, making sure to brush each individual tooth…hell, he might’ve even flossed.

    So I’m thinking:

    1. Do people really brush their teeth at work?
    2. Do you really want to have your mouth wide open, inhaling all of my dump air for three or four minutes?
    3. If you MUST brush your teeth, wouldn’t you wait a while until the air became a little fresher? Maybe come back later?

    Help me out here. Has this happened to anyone else?

    Post script — this has happened at least a dozen times during my employment here. Presumably the same guy doing the brushing.

    • dug Says:

      i’ve got a brusher in my office. i’m with you, ick.

      i mean, really. brush your teeth when you wake up, brush them when you go to bed. for the rest of the day, that’s what gum was invented for.

  17. murchball Says:

    State loudly “Guess I’ll just have to use the sink.” Someone will usually stop you and say that they’re almost done. Either that or just do your business outside.

  18. Rob Says:

    I think the proper etiquette is to knock several times on each stall door and ask how long do they think it will be until they finish. As for the guy on the urinal, it’s appropriate to put your and on his shoulder to get his attention (as not to startle him) – then ask how much more time he’ll need.

    Most people appreciate this courtesy.

  19. bikemike Says:


    when you post about toilet related issues, that’s when you get the most comments. you have truly found your calling. impressive.

    i salute you.

  20. Gary Says:

    What about if both stalls are unoccupied? Is it ok for me to use the handicapped stall even if I’m not? It’s more spacious and comfortable. Is that like parking in a handicapped space, or is it acceptable?

    • KanyonKris Says:

      Imagine a person in a wheelchair waiting outside the handicapped stall your occupying. Now that would be awkward.

      At a few places I’ve worked I would use the handicapped stall because no handicapped people worked there and we didn’t get many visitors. Luxurious.

    • dug Says:

      the handicapped stall is definitely open game. i LOVE the handicapped stall. nothing worse (that’s just a figure of speech of course–there is ALWAYS something worse) than bumping your elbows against the walls of a narrow stall.

      the handicapped can wait outside with the rest of us.

  21. stevenbpt Says:

    This is the post that never ends, it goes on and on my friend…. Too much fun to be had in the john.

  22. forgingahead Says:

    I am so not qualified to answer this question.

  23. tonks Says:

    The other day my five-year old had a little trouble navigating the intricacies of not dropping his shorts around his knees while doing his bidness, (which should apparently be added to a bathroom etiquette book for mothers of boys) and in his severe frustration called to me, “MOM! Can you teach me to pee like a man?” I wasn’t sure quite how to answer him. If only I had read this post sooner! I now have at least a month’s worth of material to teach my son on how to pee like a man. Thanks, Dug.

  24. dug Says:

    delaina, um, shouldn’t PAUL be teaching him how to pee like a man?

  25. Rick Says:

    Many years ago, an acquaintance had a job at a large industrial firm, While at said firm the need to use the facilities arose. The first thing he saw when he walked in to this industrial-sized bathroom was a pair of Bradley basins; you know, the big round stainless steel sinks with the sprayer in the middle. He had never seen one before and, although thinking it a bit odd, did his business there. Fortunately for him, he finished just before someone walked out of the back portion of the restroom, where the urinals actually were, to use the Bradley for its proper purpose. Timing is everything.

    • VA Biker Says:

      That’s hilarious! Timing indeed. And I thought peeing wall was bad enough. Okay, let’s all pee in the round. Um, no.

  26. Steve Says:

    someone should be teaching him to pee like a man. That’s for sure.

    Last job, I walked in on an intern from the office down the hall using the Engineering Dept restroom. That in itself was verbooten, because the unwritten rule was to always lock / one user at a time (narrow, 1 sink/1urinal/1 stall unit, opening into a hall with full exposure).

    So, not only has this bozo left the door unlocked, he is standing at the unscreened urinal, with pants and underpants down around his ankles.

    I was not interested in learning that his @ss was freckled. I had to wear welding goggles the remainder of the day, my eyes were so injured.

  27. skimoab Says:

    If you need to use the stall, immediately leave and go to another bathroom or wait a few minutes. The only thing worse than a cold toilet seat is a warm toilet seat.

  28. ICBE Says:

    As president of the International Center for Bathroom Etiquette, I feel compelled to chime in.

    Yes, the International Center for Bathroom Etiquette. Dug, you should definitely pay us a visit:

    It’s a great question, and as the comments revealed (okay, I admit I kind of just skimmed a few of them), it’s not an easy one. In fact, I was inspired to add a page to our site:

    Here’s what I said:

    “Ouch, that’s a tough one. First of all, don’t just loiter around! The worst thing you can do is stand there like a deer caught in the headlights – you need to assess the situation quickly. As soon as you realize all facilities are occupied, head directly to the sink as if that’s what you had intended all along. Stride confidently and with purpose, and nobody will ever know you had any other destination in mind.

    Give your hands a good thorough washing, and consider checking your grooming status. With a little luck, by the time you are done, a urinal or stall will have opened up. If not, it’s time to get out of there. Leave the bathroom, regroup, and either try again later or head to a different bathroom.

    Clearly, this advice only applies to situations where there is a reasonable expectation of a spot opening up. If it’s halftime during a big game, you may just have to line up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: