Let’s face it. A public bathroom or one at the office can be a scary place. You don’t have privacy, it’s hard to be discrete, you’re coming into contact with humanity in ways you wouldn’t normally want to. Yet, we all have to go.
How do we make the best of an awkward situation?
We asked Austin etiquette expert Sharon Schweitzer, founder of Access to Culture, which helps businesses understand proper etiquette and culture. Schweitzer was a labor and employment lawyer for 15 years. “A lot of what I handled was appropriate and inappropriate behavior in the workplace,” she says.
When it comes to using the bathroom in public or at the office, Schweitzer gives this advice: “Remember to be clean and private.”
“You want to be on your best behavior,” she says. How you behave in the bathroom is actually “an extension of your professional self.” Who wants to promote or retain an employee who is gross in the bathroom?
DON’T DO THESE THINGS
Don’t swap life stories while waiting in the line, in the stalls or at the sink.
Don’t complain about a co-worker in the bathroom. You never know who is listening or will walk in. If people do and the conversation ends abruptly, they are going to assume you were talking about them.
Do not correct someone’s behavior in an open way. However, if you have a problem with a serial nonflusher, you can have the company address it by putting out an email or posting signs to everyone. One such sign Schweitzer has seen: “If at first you don’t succeed, FLUSH, flush again.”
Don’t talk on the phone in the bathroom. The person on the other end doesn’t want to hear the flushing. The people in the bathroom don’t want to hear your conversation. It makes everyone uncomfortable, plus there’s something very creepy about having a cellphone out in the bathroom. Put it away. There’s a camera with it. How do I know you’re not taking photos or videotaping me or recording my bodily noises?
Don’t sing, either. Yes, there are great acoustics in there, but save it for the shower at home.
Don’t comment or talk to the person in the next stall if he or she is ill. Do get human resources if it seems like they need help. If you sense that it is a true medical emergency, call 911.
Don’t use the handicap accessible stall, even if it’s the only one available, unless you have the right to do so.
Don’t put your purse on the floor. A. The floor is gross. B. It can get stolen.
DO THESE THINGS
Stop having a conversation when you enter the doors. You can ask the person you are with, even your boss, “Hey, can we continue this conversation after we’re done?”
Do ask for toilet paper or deliver toilet paper to the person who needs it. That’s the only acceptable bathroom conversation: “Hey, I’m out of toilet paper over here. Can you hand me some?”
Do look under the stall or knock on the door to make sure no one is there.
Do put a stall space between you and the person who is already there, if possible. If you’re the first person in there, pick a stall that is not the middle one out of three to allow the next person to do the same thing. It’s about creating as much privacy as possible.
Treat the bathroom as if it’s your bathroom at home, perhaps even better. That means you don’t trash it or splash water around.
Do clean up after yourself by doing things like wiping the sink down and making sure there is no paper on the floor.
Do use air freshener if it’s provided.
Do flush regularly if you are having a bad stomach day. It will help get rid of the smell as well as help cover any noises.
Make sure you flush and actually look to make sure that everything went down completely. Double, triple, quadruple flush if you need to.
Wash your hands. Seriously.
Do dry your hands fully. You don’t need to spread the water from your wet hands all over the place.
Open the door with a paper towel once you have washed your hands. It keeps germs from the person who didn’t wash their hands from getting onto your just-cleaned hands.
Do call maintenance or alert someone in authority if there is a problem with a toilet or sink.
Do call housekeeping if you run out of toilet paper, paper towels or soap.