Do your duty: Public restroom etiquette

Restroom sign @ NJ Transit Newark Intl Airport...If you’re human and you know it, you are part of the only species on earth self-conscious enough to be emotional (whether in embarrassment or shame or something else) when a certain bodily need makes itself known, especially in public.  Unlike our fellow creatures, we humans have invented “restrooms” and “bathrooms” where we can contemplate and fulfill the human necessity of life that ranks in a tie with that of hunger and thirst.  However, that does not mean we can act like savages while doing so.

Okay, “savage” is a harsh description…sort of.  But believe me, it’s one thing to have a private bathroom, which in all accounts is one of mankind’s greatest luxuries…and it’s another story when you’re subjected and/or forced to frequent the horror of all horrors: the public restroom.

Over the years, stores, gas stations, and other public institutions have garnered “rankings” for not only their customer service, item selection, pricing, etc., but also the quality of the restrooms they offer to their customers and patrons.  All restrooms are not created equal.  And let’s just leave that at that.

Moving on…so, over my years of having to use public facilities like this, I have noticed more than just a lack in quality, cleanliness, and practicality.  Oh yes.  The worst of all when in public restrooms is not the place, but the company.

So what is my point here?  What am I building up to?  Well, here it is: if people have any manners at all in the first place, they certainly lose them when inside the room we all have to visit sometime(s) during the day and night.

I’m fed up with how rude, pushy, nosy, and downright violent fellow occupants of the ladies’ room have been and continue to be.  So I’m going to tell the tale.  (NOTE TO ALL GUY READERS: I’m basing my conclusions on my own observations, so this judgment is meant as words of warning and advice to you.)

  1. When faced with a private, one-person (unisex) public restroom: DO NOT repeatedly pull, yank, or try to batter down the door after you’ve tried the handle and discovered it’s locked.  Your excuse?  It could be locked by mistake.  Yeah right.  Look, the chances of a locked private restroom being unoccupied are close to zero.  Trying the door once to see if it’s open or not is logical.  Pulling the handle like your life depends on it is BAD.  RUDE.  And FRIGHTENING.  I don’t know if you’re a sensitive human being or not, but when you do something like that and I’m inside that restroom, you’re terrorizing me.  I’m doing my duty as quickly as I can, but I’m only human.  Like you.  Trying to forcibly break and enter the restroom to “hurry” me along is downright creepy, aggressive, and violent.  I don’t care if you need to pee right now.  If our places were reversed and it were you inside, I’d have the manners and patience to wait until you’re finished.   So do the same for me and drop the jerk act.  Keep in mind that some people take and need more time to “do their business” than others.
  2. When faced with a private, one-person (unisex) public restroom: DO NOT knock on the door or ask if anyone’s inside.  Again, if the door’s locked, the room’s either being cleaned or someone’s using it.  The chances of it being empty and locked by accident: near zero.  Also, trying to start up a “conversation” with the unfortunate occupant: a big NO.  Unless you’re my mother or someone who genuinely cares about my well-being, sod off.  I’m not going to reply to some weird stranger who’s trying to contact me through a closed door.  The door’s locked, I’m occupied with gastrointestinal concerns, you’ve got to wait your turn.  So leave me alone.  Unless I’ve spent 30-something minutes inside (and for some odd reason, you’re counting the time), you have no claim to say anything.

Okay, so we’re past the individualized, big issues.  Now on to issues that concern all public restrooms and their users.

  1. Talking to fellow occupants — don’t do this.  Unless you’ve dropped something and it’s rolled underneath my stall, or you’re talking to someone you know, don’t try to socialize with me, who doesn’t know you at all.  I won’t respond because that kind of situation is beyond awkward.
  2. Stop talking on the cell phone while you’re in the restroom.  Give me a break!  Who do you think you are, that you can torment the rest of us with your loud, annoying phone conversation in a place we’re supposed to find relief?!  And, um, we’re all listening to you yak on and on in the neighboring stall or sink area, so this is a mutual invasion of privacy — yours and ours.  Talking on your phone in a restroom of all places just points to the kind of person you are.  You don’t care about the opinions of others, you say in your defense?  Start doing so, because if I were the person on the other end of that line talking to you, I’d hang up.  You have no respect for others and certainly not for the person you’re talking to.  You can talk on the phone anywhere else, so don’t do it in the restroom.
  3. Cleanliness is next to godliness, they say.  When I’m in the restroom, I don’t drop paper on the floor, I don’t leave urine on the toilet, I flush the toilet and all “accessories” in it, I wash my hands, I use paper towels if they’re supplied, and I handle the door with a piece of paper on my way out.  95% of you out there ignore some or all of these steps.  Instead, I’m faced in public restrooms with the most disgusting displays of uncleanliness and the most revolting messes I’ve ever seen in my life.  Honestly, how can you not just flush the bloody toilet after you’re done?!  What I’ve had to see in there has mortified and nauseated me.  It’s like indoor vandalism, I tell you.  And what the heck possesses you to strew toilet paper and/or toilet seats all over the floor?!  By the way, if you have feminine “articles” you need to dispose of, put them in the trash or in the compartment inside the restroom.  Don’t leave them in sight.  As for washing your hands, no one can make you, but…you’re contributing to getting and spreading countless diseases, viruses, and bacteria, not to mention being incredibly lazy in refusing to do something that would take less than a minute.  Hey, just justifying my attachment to sanitizer and why I’m reluctant to shake hands with you or anyone else.
  4. “Hovering” and loitering.  The first: it’s annoying and a total invasion of private space.  I’ve seen people stand way too close to my back and lean over when I’m washing my hands or waiting for an available stall.  Your turn will come, so BACK OFF.  When you do this unique form of intimidation, you are de facto invading my personal space and, ergo, I feel threatened.  And I’m 100% sure you’d feel the same as me if I reversed the situation and hovered over you.  The second: loitering, which means that unless you’re waiting for someone to finish up, leave after you’ve completed your “business.”  Don’t wait around and meditate or watch the rest of us complete our tasks.
  5. Spying.  No peeking in on me in my stall.  Ever.  That’s actually a crime, you know.  So keep your eyes to yourself.
  6. Restroom photography.  If I catch you doing this by a restroom mirror, one conclusion comes to mind: you’re an idiot.  But it’s more serious than that: you’re breaking the law by exposing that camera or smartphone or whatever it is to the very air of the restroom and even attempting to take any photos, whether you actually do so or not.
  7. Remember to be considerate and have your manners in hand when you go to any form or variety of public restroom.  Keep in mind that we all have to go there one way or another, and there’s no reason why the experience shouldn’t be reasonably decent.  Don’t make messes, on purpose or “by accident.”  Use bathroom supplies within reason.  Don’t act like an ass and push yourself around because you’re such a VIP.  Wait your turn.  And above all, follow the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  And yes, it does apply to public restrooms.

Have I missed some restroom faux pas?  Or did I summarize them all pretty nicely?  Share your restroom horror story and/or add-ons in the commentary box.

My final note for all who empathize with me and my sad tale: I wish I may, I wish I might…go to public restrooms without any frights.

Natalie Gorna

18 thoughts on “Do your duty: Public restroom etiquette

  1. karenmmccabe March 17, 2017 / 09:16

    I would have to disagree with the no knocking rule. I think its very rude to try to open the door and not knock! What if the door lock is broken or it accidently wasnt locked? I’ve had people walk in on me a couple times…. there is no bathroom experience worse than that. Please knock and more importantly wait for a response before barging in.


    • Natalie Gorna March 17, 2017 / 09:37

      I agree to disagree with you. I have had employees and others claim not to hear me when they yell through the door and frankly, many times I can’t hear them either. The chances of a public door lock being broken and not reported are within 5%. The knocking simply does nothing and only aggrevates anxiety. I despise the habit and do not find it a sign of courtesy. Thank you for sharing your opinion.


      • Robert Bustamante January 19, 2018 / 12:00

        Hi Natalie, I agree w/ Karen.

        We have a single Unisex Bathroom for 50+ people in my office.

        – There is a lock. It can’t be locked from the outside, so that is not a threat of happening. If it’s locked there is someone in there.
        – Keep in mind, as dumb as it sounds, people often forget to lock the door when they enter. So, if the door is unlocked, that doesnt mean its empty.
        -There is a manual “Occupied / Vacant” sign on the exterior of the door, however, as people forget to lock the door, they more often forget to select the proper “Occupied” when they enter, and/or “Vacant” when they leave. This renders that sign completely unreliable. It could read “Occupied” and actually be vacant, in which case you’re waiting in an unnecessary uncomfortably patient manner for NOBODY to leave the room. Or, it’s in fact occupied but says “Vacant”, & you risk walking in on the absent-minded someone who regrettably forgot to lock the door.

        I grew up in a house of 7 people. I was taught to ALWAYS KNOCK ON A CLOSED BATHROOM DOOR… & this rule should apply to my office’s bathroom situation.
        -Do not just walk into a closed bath door – the person inside may have forgot to lock it – resulting in that awkward “caught w/ pants down” moment, even if the door isn’t opened entirely, thats still a regrettable situation for everyone.
        -Conversely, if the door is locked, no harm has occurred by knocking, other than a simple, polite knock disturbance while handling your business, which we can all agree, is much less humiliating than the “caught w/ pants down” moment or uncomfortable jangling of the handle you mentioned in your first bullet.
        There is no harm in Knocking on a door. The benefit of not walking in on someone far exceeds the risk of disturbance of a simple knock, for both people involved.
        -It should be said as well, if you find yourself in the bathroom & forgot to lock, while you’re already on the pot… & someone else knocks… you’d better soon remove your fear of to talk, or be walked in on… or you could just politely respond… my favorite in this situation… Forest Gump quote in arrogant southern brat accent – “Seats Taken!”…. humor does wonders for awkward situations… 🙂


        • Natalie Gorna January 19, 2018 / 13:08

          The exception that proves the rule. To someone who has bladder problems like me, your office/restroom situation sounds like a nightmare! Nonetheless, I still stand by what I’ve written – I agree to disagree with you and Karen. Thanks for commenting!


  2. KD May 22, 2016 / 15:04

    As a man, I can tell you most of these transgressions occur in our public restrooms too, with the exceptions of the cross-stall chatting and talking on the phone while they’re sitting in a stall.

    One thing I’ve noticed that varies greatly depending on the type of people living in a city is the amount of urine on the floor and the number of men who leave the restroom without washing their hands. I’m currently attending San Jose State University; our restroom floors are almost always clean, and I’ve never observed someone leaving without washing their hands. While attending junior college in Santa Cruz, however, I would say at least half of the males on campus did not wash after urinating, and a shocking number didn’t wash after exiting a stall; which, for men, almost always means #2.

    In addition, in Santa Cruz, it’s become very popular for people who self-identify as hippies to go everywhere barefoot…everywhere. I still can’t fathom how all of these guys I witnessed walk into a bathroom, stand in a puddle of urine while using the urinal, and walk out without washing their hands, haven’t been declared a health hazard by the CDC…


    • Natalie Gorna May 22, 2016 / 21:04

      Even worse are the employees in countless restaurants, cafes, and eateries, never washing their hands after they use the restroom and then preparing food without gloves or touching those gloves while they pull them on. Another bona fide health hazard. Your barista hands you your Starbucks beverage after touching his/her smartphone (a breeding ground for bacteria) and most likely not having washed his/her hands during their last restroom break. Oh, the horrors.

      According to statistics, more than 50% of men do not wash their hands after they use the restroom. But women also are guilty of this, and they rarely scrub their hands or use a piece of paper to touch things afterwards upon leaving. It’s so ironic that in a day and age where we can be so knowledgeable about disease and caring for our health, people are more careless and unthinking than ever in this respect. Being smart about what you touch (and what you fail to keep clean) is as important as being a careful driver.

      Thank you for tuning in with your personal experience and observations. I appreciate that you took the time to leave a comment on my post!


  3. KC November 13, 2015 / 21:51

    i agree….”i dont care if you needed to pee or not, it is down right creepy and violent…”


  4. Allison December 23, 2012 / 10:34

    Regards cell phone conversations in the bathroom: My “revenge” is that I grab my handy notebook and start writing down all the chatter. Some of those conversations just might form some interesting dialog in a story.:-)


    • Natalie Gorna December 23, 2012 / 18:19

      Haha – a neat way to get even, though I try to get on the annoying person’s nerves then and there by repeatedly flushing the toilet while they’re talking. 😉


  5. Pointer December 11, 2012 / 09:01

    Well said! 🙂

    P.S. Not exactly a horror story – but I recall a time when I was reluctant to enter a public restroom for the simple reason that a young lad was standing instide, door wide open, thoroughly enjoying playing with the water in the sink, lifting double handsful up, and swirling in the sink, etc. I’m afraid his enjoyment won me over, and I smiled and waited a bit…. Peaceful ending.



    • Natalie Gorna December 11, 2012 / 16:54

      Thanks – in critique, this blog post ties with my 2012 Valentine’s Day post for the standard of my writing. At 1500 words, it was a bit of work, but considering I wrote it from my head in about an hour with edits…I’m proud of it. 😀

      That’s a nice, innocent image. 🙂 However, for me it brings to mind the incredible sight of grown-up boys inside the ladies’ restroom in a local library I used to go to…and this happened not just once, but hundreds of times! I can understand mothers bringing little boys with them inside the ladies’ room, but tween and teenage boys using facilities meant for girls and women…ugh. A complete violation of privacy and decency.


      • Pointer December 11, 2012 / 21:12

        A similar story: long ago, my supervisor and her boss, both women, told of having snuck in to use the men’s bathroom late one night, when nobody else was around: they enjoyed teasing with role reversals…
        You wrote from your head? Mmm! Perhaps you have acquired the Art of Memory? ‘Tis a favorite topic of mine, though I haven’t acquired it myself, alas.


        • Natalie Gorna December 11, 2012 / 21:20

          Alas, these boys went into the restroom in the middle of the day, when many women frequented it. It was blatant and created uncomfortable tension every time it happened. Have you ever heard of the saying “It’s only stealing when you get caught”? Using the men’s restroom (or for men, ladies’ restroom) in a time of necessity or when no one else is around is a different story than going inside when the opposite sex is using it.

          Yes, I often write from my head – it has its benefits from copying from a written rough draft. Besides, there’s something so invigorating and enticing about typing. The art of memory – it’s the darnedest thing. I can remember many, many things for a long, long time, but sometimes my short term memory rebels and I suffer for it: losing things, forgetting what I’m supposed to do even though I’ve told myself a thousand times what I’m supposed to do.


          • Pointer December 11, 2012 / 22:01

            Ah no, I disagree with that saying about it being stealing only if one’s caught: a very selfish and probably materialistic thing.
            Oh, I agree, typing can be invigorating, and enticing: I really like typing.
            Art of Memory, ah, I’m thinking of the legend of Simonides, and of the chain of Places learned by heart in sequence, on which to hang images of things one wants to recall in proper order, it’s quite amazing though it’d take some trouble to set up.
            Some of my best long-term memories are from math, and some favorite music. Euler’s formula’s my favorite equation, and sometimes I’m tempted to see if I can work out the proof again for some theorem or other, that may yet come to mind. Folk dance tunes, and snatches of classical music, also play themselves, once in a long while. I’m now trying to learn Las Manyanitas, tune and lyrics, for Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast tomorrow, though I know precious little Spanish. Our guest from Columbia wants us to try and sing it.
            For short term memory of where I put things, I now just make an extra easy effort to connect the thing, with the place where I’m putting it, and usually to put it always in the same place anyway, and that usually works. For things to do, if repetitive, I try short lists: short ones often work. Memory’s a curious sort of ability!


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