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Why do some men hang out to talk in office restrooms?
June 23, 2008 8:06 AM   Subscribe

Men: Do you socialize in the restroom at work? WHY?

I work in an office building where various companies on each floor share a single, fairly-big men's room (four urinals, five stalls). I drink a lot of water at my desk, so I'm in there fairly frequently and I've noticed a number of times that random groups of two or three guys (who I assume work together) will be in there at the same time, chatting, doing their business, and then stand by the sinks and talk for a good few minutes after they've finished washing up.

Granted, it's not a dirty place, but why would anyone stay in the restroom longer than necessary when there's a nice wide hallway right outside that doesn't have a vague odor of human waste and ring with the sounds of waste elimination? Clearly, this perception isn't universal, and these guys are mostly government contractors and assorted ex-military types.
posted by kittyprecious to Society & Culture (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I generally don't but it's not like I won't say hello to people I know. I'd suspect it would be rude not to. sometimes that does become some idle chitchat or quick hey, did you get that meeting invite catching up. or when you're just come out of one of these pointless three-hour conference calls together. how are you not going to say a word or two about that in the semi-privacy that is such a small group? this would be more of a while-washing-hands thing.

there do seem to be quite a few people out there who treat the restroom-conversation-thing the way they treat hallway-conversation-things (I should trademark that). they don't mind standing in a hallway chatting for a moment and don't always duck into an office, sit down and put on the kettle first.

but in general.. no, I do not seek out social interaction in restrooms.
posted by krautland at 8:13 AM on June 23, 2008


Same reason I stayed in the restroom for a couple hours after a strong liquid lunch when I worked at a Big Corporation - no-one's gonna question you when you're in there. You can have a good long conversation, and if the boss walks in, you can play it off like a short chat.
posted by notsnot at 8:17 AM on June 23, 2008


Why not? It's a private guy zone, and therefore perfect for networking.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:19 AM on June 23, 2008


WHY?
Why not? You're already in the same room. Why bother pulling everyone outside if you're just going to exchange a few words? It's the same as asking why people will stand in the hallway next to the printer or next to the water cooler instead of ducking into a room or out of the hallway. Don't discount timing and simple convenience.
posted by junesix at 8:26 AM on June 23, 2008


Nope. The most conversation I get in the bathroom is a 'Sup?'. Which is as it should be.

In fact, the contrary to your observation is true too: office rumour has it that certain women attempt to hold extended conversations in the ladies' room. Man, woman, whatever, I think it's just individual taste (or ignorance) as to what's a socially acceptable place for chatting it up.
posted by spamguy at 8:26 AM on June 23, 2008


What notsnot said, basically. The average bathroom has an advantage over the average hallway: it's an enclosed space with no line-of-sight from chatting (read: slacking) employees to superiors or nosy peers.

I've never thought, let alone put into words, "let's go hang out in the bathroom", but if I bump into a friend neither of us is in a hurry and no one has done anything appalling in one of the stalls recently, there's a good chance we'll bullshit for a few minutes.
posted by cortex at 8:26 AM on June 23, 2008


I wonder if it's because the ex-military guys are used to expelling waste in one another's presence.

Personally speaking, I don't indulge in chatting in public toilets. I don't think people really need to hear the background noises.

Right now, I'm reminded of a sketch by the comedian Ben Elton. He mentioned in the sketch that guys don't talk in rest rooms because any opening to conversation gets translated to "can I have a look at your penis?".
posted by Solomon at 8:27 AM on June 23, 2008


You're all insane. No one talks to anyone in the men's room. A simple "sup?" as mentioned before, and only if the other person is leaving as you enter, then stare straight ahead whilst doing your business. That's why in fancier men's rooms they post the sports page above the urinals.
posted by Gungho at 8:31 AM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


And maybe a point of clarification here: I read your question as being about conversing/socializing in the bathroom in general, rather than as being about talking while actually using the facilities. I'd guess that the folks willing to talk to someone while e.g. actually taking a crap is a smaller subset of the folks inclined to chance-meeting-in-the-can conversation in general.
posted by cortex at 8:33 AM on June 23, 2008


I would consider it extremely impolite if anyone tried to start a conversation with me in a men's room - or some kind of unwanted come-on...

The most interaction that should take place in there is a nod or short one word greeting.
posted by thewalrus at 8:34 AM on June 23, 2008


I don't regularly chat there, because it isn't the best atmosphere for reasons already mentioned. But as I think about it, I WILL usually resolve any conversation there rather than adjourn into the hall. It always strikes me as awkward to wait for the other person(s) to finish, then continue together to the hall. My guess as to why? It probably it has more of a feel of a restroom pickup that way, esp. as I envision emerging from the restroom chatting together. My sense is that restrooms should entered solo and exited solo.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:41 AM on June 23, 2008


Um, what? Normal guys don't talk in the restroom. A nod, without looking, while at the urinal, is all that is acceptable. Anything more is not Manly.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 8:44 AM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I beg to differ with all the strong, silent types here, at least for my work restroom. Our restroom doubles as a locker room and so we will often discuss the day's schedule or how last night's call was or other work-related matters. This is usually done while changing clothes, though; talking while actually going to the bathroom is generally much less common.
posted by TedW at 8:50 AM on June 23, 2008


When I lived in California, guys talked in the restroom. While you were at the urinal, it was not at all unusual to have a coworker start a conversation. No problems with that whatsoever with me -- I'm not pee-shy.
posted by the dief at 8:50 AM on June 23, 2008


Um, what? Normal guys don't talk in the restroom.

You're all insane. No one talks to anyone in the men's room.

Nope, depends on the individual. I've heard high power execs do phone conversations on the toilet 'cause the business means all, office bullies do it because they love watching others squirm, children of large families do it because they've grown up with it, athletes do it because they're use to it and finally others do it 'cause they just don't have the same hang up about it.

There are any number of reasons why people would do it, but it all boils down to "because they can."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:50 AM on June 23, 2008


Same reason I stayed in the restroom for a couple hours after a strong liquid lunch when I worked at a Big Corporation - no-one's gonna question you when you're in there. You can have a good long conversation, and if the boss walks in, you can play it off like a short chat.

This. My friends with Big Corporate jobs regularly go sit on the john for a 15 minute nap, though their yapping is done over e-mail / corporate IM, with a system of codewords for discussing inappropriate topics.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:53 AM on June 23, 2008


I find it hard to carry on a serious conversation in a male restroom with the various barnyard sounds and smells going on. Our work restroom has a very business-like atmosphere in that you go there to do you "business" and get the hell out.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:56 AM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I absolutely hate it when someone tries to talk to me in the restroom beyond a nod or a hello. Even worse are the cut-ups who crack wise, with lines like "So this is where the dicks hang out," etc.
posted by porn in the woods at 9:20 AM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm going to throw out there than any ex-military types might be more comfortable chatting in the restroom than any other type of guy. They're used to close quarters and a complete lack of modesty and prudery -- you'd have to be with that background.
posted by amanda at 9:21 AM on June 23, 2008


Other than a passing hello, the answer is no.
posted by 2oh1 at 9:31 AM on June 23, 2008


I read your question as being about conversing/socializing in the bathroom in general, rather than as being about talking while actually using the facilities.

No, actually, I can understand guys wanting to chat a bit while both at the urinal after a meeting, or if one guy's washing his hands and the other is in transit or whatever, but it seemd weird to me that people would actually hang around after being completely done with their restroom activities.
posted by kittyprecious at 9:51 AM on June 23, 2008


Simply put, for for lack of a better location.
posted by pmbuko at 10:06 AM on June 23, 2008


You're all insane. No one talks to anyone in the men's room.

This is an important and popular strain of thought. But what tangled webs we weave, when without a whisper we relieve.

Or: I loved you once in silence.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:12 AM on June 23, 2008


I also think it's a generational thing. My personal experience is that older men tend to be much more comfortable engaging in conversation in the restroom than younger men. For that matter, older men also seem to be the ones who stand up from their desks mid-afternoon and tuck a newspaper under their arms and strut toward the men's room, proudly announcing to God and everyone that they are off to take a giant dump.

This kind of shit (pardon the pun) makes the under-40 set pretty squeamish.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 10:41 AM on June 23, 2008


Some of the best meetings I ever had were at a urinal. ;-)

I should also add that I would never engage in conversation with someone doing more than taking a piss.

And one last thought that just occurred to me: the only place I see men talking to each other is in our work bathroom. Any other place: nada. Hmmm, interesting.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 11:01 AM on June 23, 2008


Definitely an age-related thing. The closer to death you are, the less odd it seems to hold a conversation while waste is exiting your body. Sometimes it can be a little bizarre, but it usually makes for decent-enough conversation.

I also find it a bit of an equalizer/networking thing, which is an odd thing to acknowledge, now that I think about it. My boss' boss may be able to hide away most of the day in his big office with a better view, or drive to his much nicer home in his much nicer car, but we still make stupid bathroom conversation all the same. Maybe it doesn't help much, but it does help.
posted by littlelebowskiurbanachiever at 11:13 AM on June 23, 2008


Talking in the restroom is totally against The Rules. It's bad enough to break conversation rules in the restroom, but if someone is actually on the phone, I do my best to make sure the person on the other end of the call knows they're conversing with a pisstalker. I'm not farting in the hallway so you can talk on the phone in the bathroom.
posted by cnc at 11:44 AM on June 23, 2008


No talking in the Personal. I'm fifty, FFS, and I wouldn't begin or sustain a conversation in the can.
posted by jet_silver at 12:24 PM on June 23, 2008


Fuck no. And people who do are creepy.
posted by Riemann at 1:12 PM on June 23, 2008


The Bathroom: The last bastion of gender specific complaints and/or jokes.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:26 PM on June 23, 2008


Its not generational where I work. My organization is somewhat social and that extends to the bathroom, believe it or not. Its not often but sometimes stuff gets talked about. I dont see it as a big deal and the whole "Lets put on our stoic faces and our faces down because pee'ing is serious business" puritan-streak isnt really worth defending.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:28 PM on June 23, 2008


I think one of Asimov's Elijah Bailey novels mentions a futures when talking in men's rooms becomes so taboo that children are beaten for it. (Women, however, notoriously socialize during bathroom visits.)
posted by d. z. wang at 2:10 PM on June 23, 2008


I think if people are finished their business they should leave -- there might be someone sitting in a stall kind of hoping for a moment alone to really let things rip, and you should give them that one sacred minute if you can. There's nothing worse than really wanting to let fly but there's someone right outside the door being very quiet so it's like... a battle of wills.
posted by loiseau at 4:31 PM on June 23, 2008


There's nothing worse than really wanting to let fly but there's someone right outside the door being very quiet so it's like... a battle of wills.

See, normally I'm like a ninja in there -- you have no idea whether I'm about, or when I'll strike. But now you've given me a reason to talk, so that would-be-rippers know when the coast is clear!

This has just become a lot more confusing.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:21 PM on June 23, 2008


Not sure what kind of business you're in, but I'm amazed that there's no mention of gender here. I consciously resist talking much, and especially talking business, in the men's room, specifically because it's a "homosocial" environment that is defined by excluding other genders. My professional context actually is relatively equal in terms of women/men in numbers and power positions, but the WC still seems like a place where institutional exclusion suggests that either "doing business" or more social networking is better postponed for the watercooler...
posted by Mngo at 8:28 PM on June 23, 2008


...or, what blue_beetle said...
posted by Mngo at 8:30 PM on June 23, 2008


This is FASCINATING. As a woman, I rarely get schooled in the bathroom protocol of the opposite sex. My understanding of the rules was that talking, especially at the urinals, was absolutely NOT ALLOWED. I also understand there are spacing regulations and other elaborate rituals.

What I have to contribute, then, is why WOMEN talk in bathrooms - it's a private area that lends itself to more open expression of things that are "inappropriate" beyond its confines - I imagine that men feel freer to express opinions that they feel wouldn't be kosher in the hallway or by the water cooler. Sure, they're still at work, but it's the bathroom, you can pull down your pants in there, you can fart as loudly as you like, so it's not really at work.

There's also a gender-defined bonding aspect involved. It's a No Girls Allowed zone, so you can talk about Manly Man Things (as women may discuss Girly Girl Things, like that not-so-fresh feeling and stuff.) Even if women wouldn't necessarily be bothered by the conversation, it's comforting to have a dudes only zone.

DISCLAIMER: I may be way off - I hate it when people talk to me in the bathroom, or when, heaven forfend, other women want to share the bathroom with me when I want to pee. No matter how much I like you, I'd really prefer you were in the other room. Or, even better, another state.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:05 PM on June 23, 2008


For that matter, older men also seem to be the ones who stand up from their desks mid-afternoon and tuck a newspaper under their arms and strut toward the men's room, proudly announcing to God and everyone that they are off to take a giant dump.
Boy, did that comment bring back memories. I used to work in a small office, and it never ceased to amaze me how the two men that worked there (one in his 70s, the other in his 40s) used to do exactly this - tuck a folded newspaper under their arm and stride purposefully off for their daily constitutional. Nothing discreet about it whatsoever. They both would also occasionally share men's room anecdotes with me upon their return...like how so-and-so from down the hall always takes a legal sized notepad in the stall with him.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:23 AM on June 24, 2008


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