Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Let's Talk about Poop, Baby - Exploring Bathroom Etiquette

Last night, Annie and I went to dinner and the movies with some friends. Dinner was delicious and the movie was mildy entertaining. As we left the film, Ben and I discussed the strengths and failings of the production. We went back and forth on the technical elements, the dialogue, and the development of the characters. As we continued down the hallway of the cineplex, I paused to use the bathroom.
Ben too, was in need of reprieve, so we headed to the john. As soon as we passed the threshold of the facility, our fervent conversation snapped into poignant silence, disallowing the use of vocal chords. We stood in silence along side an older man who's beleaguered breathing offered bizarre counterpoint to the flowing streams of golden waste that could be heard from each of the stalls. We each zipped, washed, dried, and made our way out of the sanitary silence of the bathroom. Back in the hall, the din of Slurpee machines, fluorescent lights, verbose movie patrons, and bored high school employees was jarring against my ear drums. Ben and I met up with Annie and Alexis, and we continued our conversations as we made our way to the poster-strewn exit.

Today, I arrived to my office early in anticipation of an important meeting. The office was barren and the lights were dim. I worked for a time, then, upon feeling the affects of my coffee, headed for the loo. As I entered the washroom, a gentleman followed me into the room, carrying a phone and a conversation. Opting to give the man the privacy that he evidently did not care for, I opted to use a stall for my restroom relief. The man continued his call, all the while zipping, flushing, washing, and exiting. I was taken aback by the brazenness of this man and his lack of care for the social boundaries of a corporate restroom. The mans behavior, not uncommon among workers in my office building, got me thinking about the social etiquette surrounding bathroom behavior, both public and private.

By and large, our society does not condone conversation while using the restroom. Whether it be on the phone or in person, the casual acquaintance is uncomfortable with that level of implied intimacy when communicating. But for some, a level of comfort can be achieved that allows for toilet talk. My college roommates and I were comfortable enough that we could continue a conversation from living room to bathroom and back again. Rarely did we even shut the bathroom door, let alone lock it. To pause the conversation for a bio-break would be annoying, and innappropriate in that social setting. If there was no conversation to be had, I would generally be found reading a novel or watching a movie. To this day, there are a handful of friends and family who remain in that "inner circle" - people who I feel comfortable speaking to while defecating. Among them I'd include my wife, a few close friends, and my mother. Odd as it may seem, in these rare circumstances, I am not opposed to talking while pooping, as long as it is in a private toilet.

So why is it that I am so put off by the man in the public restroom so casually carrying on with the person on the other end of the phone? Is it that he is stepping over a socially unwritten code, and in doing so potentially violating the comfort level of the person with whom he is speaking? Or maybe it is that his conversation in that public facility is violating my right to a silent bathroom experience, interrupting my ability to catch up on my reading while toileting. Or maybe it simply makes me uncomfortable because the presence of that man and his one-sided conversation breaks the implied sterility of the bathroom experience. The lack of any noise mirrors the implied lack of encroaching germs or volatile filth, so the presence of conversation allows a person to realize the likelihood of other ominous intrusions.

Pragmatically speaking, there should be no difference in these two types of conversation. When I think of it from a more rational perspective, I am not bothered by the man and his phone. Yet every time someone enters the bathroom mid-conversation, it still strikes a nerve with me. The struggle for the sanctity of the toilet is an internal battle, and one that I fear will not be resolved anytime soon.

Am I alone in this debate? What is your stance on this turbulent topic? Are you open to water closet conversation, or do you prefer the quiet of porcelein meditation?



  1. I don't talk on my phone in a public restroom but I'm the queen of telling someone they're "going to the bathroom with me" when I'm at home. I've gotten some strange looks when exiting the public restroom with my daughter in tow though....Only because...well..Kids say the darnedest things.

    1. I can only imagine what conversations are held between children and parents in the (lack of) privacy of the public bathroom. That is not so much offensive as it is hilarious.

      I appreciate that you give fair warning before submitting someone to toilet talk!