Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bathroom Etiquette

In general, I believe in an open-door policy. I'm all for transparency -- in government, in personal life, in conversations with parents about their seventh graders.

But not when it comes to the bathroom.

Last year, my friend K. and I discovered that, in addition to a million other things we have in common, we both observe complete silence when in the bathroom.

I'm not exactly sure how we discovered this fact, but once it was... well, out in the open, we had a few thousand examples to illustrate our point.

"I swear to you, the second I sit down --" I began.

"I know! I mean, all I need is just a minute --" K. continued.

"And then, inevitably, he'll have a question that just can't wait. Like, 'Where do we keep the spatulas?' or 'Have you seen my belt?' -- really crucial stuff."


We stared at each other, amazed. We had been living all this time, miles apart, in parallel universes.

In our eleven-plus years, the hubs and I have come to some sort of agreement about bathroom etiquette. We've had to, since for our entire history we have shared a bathroom. The agreement works something like this: Under no circumstances* should he attempt to talk to me through the bathroom door (*possible exceptions include house on fire, home invasion, or appearance of Publisher's Clearing House van). In turn, I try not to enter the bathroom during the "hair" phase of his morning routine.

It mostly works.

When it doesn't, we have no choice but to scream at each other.

At work, I face many of the same problems. The women's bathroom in the office has four stalls and two sinks. During our breaks, we file into the bathroom one by one, and inevitably, inescapably, someone will talk to me through my stall door, through toilet paper unwinding and toilets flushing, through paper towels dispensing and water rushing in the sinks. Sometimes there are comments about the weather or about yet another stupid policy behind handed down by our bosses (aka, the government). I submit to this as best I can, inserting, "mm-hmm" and "yeah" to every question I'm asked. But don't try to ask me about a student's grade, or about a novel I'm teaching. This is not the time to argue, not the time to engage.

Every time this lapse in bathroom etiquette happens (once a day, five days a week at least), I suddenly remember the contract Will and I have with each other, and wonder if it can be imposed upon my colleagues as well.

Imagine the possibilities:

I could draft a simple version, slide it into their mailslots, and collect signed contracts by the end of the week. I could circulate a petition, then post the collection of signatures inside each stall. We could institute a small fine for violators and encourage self-reporting.

Because I, too, have a dream. It is not a lofty one. I would simply like two or three minutes of uninterrupted quiet to do... well, whatever I wish.


  1. Got news for you, babe. You aren't always observing "complete silence" while in the bathroom. ;-)

  2. The hubs has prompted this self-disclosure: I do sing in the shower.