Do you make a noise when someone enters if you're alone in a public bathroom?
December 3, 2005 8:49 PM   Subscribe

Do you announce your presence in a public bathroom if you're in a stall by making subtle sounds?

A friend and I were discussing how if we're alone in a stall in a public bathroom, and someone walks in, we clear our throats or rustle the toilet paper to make sure they know we're there.

I was trying to figure out why we do it, and I think it's three reasons: the first is that we don't want them attempting to open the stall door, hence exposing us; the second is that we don't want them to start doing something weird or awkward, such as having sex or dancing on the sinks; the third is that we don't want to startle them when we exit the stall.

Does anyone else do this? Is it a quality of introverts? None of my extraverted friends seem to do it, although that may be entirely arbitrary.
posted by spiderskull to Grab Bag (55 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What about not-so-subtle sounds? Do those count?
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:56 PM on December 3, 2005

Great question. Yes. I have no idea why... but on a wag it feels like a gesture to avoid an awkward situation on the way out. Since it's hard to rationalize it, I can't help wondering if there's something primal and instinctive about it, though, like perhaps some vestige of territory-marking or something.
posted by rolypolyman at 9:06 PM on December 3, 2005

Also on second thought, I think it's to keep a relaxing atmosphere in there, so I can relax and get business done.
posted by rolypolyman at 9:07 PM on December 3, 2005

Doing something like this never even occurred to me.

As for your three reasons:
If you lock the stall door no one can walk in on you. If the person is going to do something really odd they will probably be cautious enough to look for others before beginning. Finally, why would the person be surprised by you exiting the stall? Don't you flush a moment or two before exiting?
posted by oddman at 9:11 PM on December 3, 2005

Not unless the door doesn't lock, then I always do. I might also try to make sure my bag or foot is extra visible near the edge. I guess that's a little weird.
posted by crabintheocean at 9:11 PM on December 3, 2005

Yes, but only for the first reason. I find that there are two kinds of men: (1) those that approach public restrooms reluctantly and quietly, and who would prefer that no one else be in there when they use them; and (2) those that barge in, make as much as noise as possible, bang on doors, and generally act like there's a fire to be put out.
posted by deadfather at 9:13 PM on December 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm honestly not sure if I do or not, but I think people should. Because there's nothing I hate more than thinking I'm alone in the bathroom, and I'm talking and singing to myself, and all of a sudden I see a pair of feet- oh snap, I just made a huge fool of myself to that random pooping person.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:15 PM on December 3, 2005 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: oddman - yeah, those are simply reasons I've heard from different people I've asked. It didn't occur to me that the flushing sound would be enough, though, for the 3rd reason.
posted by spiderskull at 9:15 PM on December 3, 2005

I simply fart.
posted by kindall at 9:22 PM on December 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

I don't know about informing other people, whether subtle or not, when I go into a public bathroom.

On the other hand, when I'm about to make a rude sound whilst at the urinal or sink, or whatever, I try to be sure that either I'm alone, or there are two other people in the bathroom. Weird, but true.
posted by scalespace at 9:28 PM on December 3, 2005

If the stall door has a flimsy or nonexistant locking mechanism the cough is used. It's almost something that I don't even think about, it just happens. That is really the only reason, I never considered any of the other reasons mentioned above.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:29 PM on December 3, 2005

There is another reason you didn't state. You said you don't want them to do something weird like have sex. But what about doing something completely ordinary like taking a shit?

You want them to know that there's someone else in the room so that they will suppress grunts, farts, and other unseemly behavior that will assault your senses and add to your own knowledge that your privacy while taking a crap is only partial. Introverts consider bathroom time very private and would rather that you didn't hear them and they didn't hear you. For god's sake there's someone else here. How about a courtesy flush, motherfucker?

The multi-stall bathroom is most certainly the invention of an extrovert. Who wants to stare at someone's shoes while they drop dirt?
posted by scarabic at 9:30 PM on December 3, 2005

Do what I do—recite prime numbers as loudly as possible. I find the patent aggression helps to relax my pee-shy bladder when there is another person in the restroom.
posted by jenovus at 9:32 PM on December 3, 2005

I choose to remain quiet and allow the locked doors and visible shoes under the walls do my talking. Count me in the prefer the empty bathroom group. I'm not a big fan of wanting to listen to other people in the bathroom, so I try not to be a guy who is listened to either. Weird? Who knows.
posted by Atreides at 9:38 PM on December 3, 2005

Yep. But then again, I'm a bit shit-shy.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:59 PM on December 3, 2005

I'm an introvert, and I've never thought of doing this. But it's interesting. I wonder if it's not the stall version of the unspoken urinal rule: always stay as far away as possible.
posted by scottreynen at 10:13 PM on December 3, 2005

I do it because I don't want people jiggling my stall door while I am defecating poop. What is weird is that I always have the urge to say "Ocupado" when someone jiggles, even though I don't speak Spanish and have no idea if that is even a Spanish word. I must have picked it up somewhere without realizing it (although I have the urge, I never actually say it, I usually say "Occupied").

On a somewhat related note. When I was in high school and my parents were gone and I had my girlfriend over, they would always beep while pulling into the driveway. They never did it in any other situation and never talked to me about why they do it, but I was always thankful (1) they did it and (2) we never had to talk about why.
posted by Falconetti at 10:25 PM on December 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

when I was in high school, the stalls in the school bathrooms did not have doors (well, they did in the girls' bathrooms) -- anyone care to explain that?! (and so, yes, we none of us boys shat at school but waited till we went home)

anyway, it's bad enough that people talk on cell phones in the bathrooms (while going), or don't flip up the seats and then piss on them. I mean, this is at a work environment even, we're living in a society!

so at this point I don't expect any peace in the restroom regardless, why let someone know you're in there since it most likely won't make any difference in their behavior anyway (savages.)
posted by dorian at 10:48 PM on December 3, 2005

I do this as well, though I think I want to let the entrant know that I am not pooping. I've never really thought it through.
posted by rhapsodie at 10:58 PM on December 3, 2005

Actually, I think I'm purposely as quiet as possible when I'm in a stall and someone walks in. For whatever reason (honestly, I don't know), I don't like the idea that someone might hear me taking a crap/piss and barring any strange sounds coming from my ass, I don't like the idea that someone might be listening for those sounds. I'm not sure why anyone would make an effort to listen to those sounds though? I also think to myself, "stop reading my mind," just in case.
posted by panoptican at 11:00 PM on December 3, 2005

something weird or awkward, such as having sex or dancing on the sinks

Dancing on the sinks? Gee, the cultural phenomena I miss out on...
posted by mykescipark at 11:03 PM on December 3, 2005

Response by poster: My friend just brought up two good points: 1) it could be used as a precursor to other undesirable sounds, so that they are not unpleasantly surprised by loud gastrointestinal sounds, and/or 2) she sometimes uses it to mask these unpleasant sounds. The latter point doesn't really address the first sound we make, but it does give a reason for general shuffling noises and coughs (and sometimes blowing one's nose).
posted by spiderskull at 11:17 PM on December 3, 2005

I think I'm going to start wearing headphones. What I don't hear can't bother me.
posted by Mike C. at 11:20 PM on December 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

meh. it's a restroom, the ultimate source of unholy sounds. if you really think other people are listening to you, is it not more about that you are listening to them? it's probably all in your mind, get over it. or, as the childrens' book sez, everybody poops. or some junk.

(and, as recommended by Mike C. I personally do fire up my music player in the restroom so as to not-hear you jokers and concentrate. so there. unhygenic? yeah probably. but not so much as the idjits I see brushing their teeth in the restroom. ugh!)
posted by dorian at 11:26 PM on December 3, 2005

when I was in high school, the stalls in the school bathrooms did not have doors (well, they did in the girls' bathrooms) -- anyone care to explain that?!

I think the trend to eliminate the stall doors in boys' bathrooms in high schools was to make it easier to see what was going on in there because the boys would always be up to no good (smoking, drugs, sex, swirlies, etc.). Without the stall doors, there was nowhere to hide to commit your clandestine activities.
posted by Falconetti at 11:28 PM on December 3, 2005

I'm happy enough with the locked door. Or, when the lock doesn't work, I feel reasonably secure as long as I can adopt a quasi-yoga position in which I simultaneously hold the door closed and do my business. But it wouldn't occur to me to make special noises to alert others of my presence.
posted by chrismear at 12:17 AM on December 4, 2005

Wait, wait, wait -- the stalls in men's rooms often have no locks, or even no doors? Whoa.
posted by maudlin at 12:22 AM on December 4, 2005

Wait, wait, wait -- the stalls in men's rooms often have no locks, or even no doors? Whoa.

Not in adult life, no, that's almost never a problem.
posted by kindall at 12:33 AM on December 4, 2005

Apart from the urination station. It's always been beyond me why, while it's obvious that we need privacy to take a dump, we're expected to be perfectly happy to stand in a row and get our dicks out at each other.
posted by chrismear at 12:46 AM on December 4, 2005

I most definitely (but now almost subconsciously) make a subtle sound to alert others of my presence in the stall, and I do it to avoid the 1 second of potential embarassment if they tried to open the door while I was in there. End of story.

I used to cough, but since this usually happens in the work environment, a vocalized cough could actually be used to identify the dumper, especially in a small company, which are usually rumor mills. So if you cough, you could imagine that at some point when everyone goes out for drinks, someone has said, "Man, that Roger takes some really smelly shits."

So now I just rustle the toilet paper, or pull out a stream of it, since I'm going to need it soon anyway.

On the other hand, when I first walk into my office's men's room, I habitually put my hands on my knees and bend over so my head is almost upside down to do a shoe-check in the handicapped stall (my preferred venue) to avoid the locked-door-wiggle encounter.

I'm actually a little more relaxed in non-work public restrooms, because there are usually more stalls available, I don't work all day with anyone else who might join me, and I know they will never see or hear from me again, so I'm a little less sensitive about making rude noises.
posted by robbie01 at 1:07 AM on December 4, 2005

Well, I do the opposite. I can't make grunting and plopping noises with an audience...
posted by A189Nut at 1:15 AM on December 4, 2005

While I've never really thought it out before, I suspect people who do this are subconsciously communicating a 'someone is already using a stall, I'd really appreciate it if you came back later' signal. People communicate all sorts of information in non-verbal and non-intentional ways, and I'd see this as simply being the kind of signal a person subconsciously puts out to broadcast their discomfort at having to share space while doing something they consider to be intensely private.
posted by planetthoughtful at 1:55 AM on December 4, 2005


The bathroom at my work has two shitter stalls and two urinals, all in one room. I was in one of the shitters one day when I heard someone walk in and go to the urinal. He was soon joined by another. They acknowledged each other by name.

"Hi Joe."

A few moments passed. Then one of them let out a long, high pitched sqeal of a fart. It went on so long I thought I might need to get up and administer first aid. It was disgusting and hilarious and I could only imagine how awkward a moment was taking place out at the urinals. Finally the donkey-like sound of it subsided, echoed off the tile walls, and was still.

A heartbeat transpired, and I heard Phillip say "Oh, was that you?"

Joe grunted "excuse me," as Phillip chuckled. They left pretty much together and I was finally able to sob with laughter, on the pot, without giving myself away.
posted by scarabic at 2:27 AM on December 4, 2005

Women don't know that, generally, men don't talk to other men in restrooms (men they know --there are "accounts" of men talking to strangers but I won't get into that).

I think the bathroom can be more of a social experience for women than for men. Aside from the personal (the actual act of going to the bathroom), women use it for other reasons (makeup and even chat).

I have never had another man say to me: "You're going to the bathroom, let me come with you."
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 4:29 AM on December 4, 2005

Wait, wait, wait -- the stalls in men's rooms often have no locks, or even no doors? Whoa.

The Boston Public Library adopted this solution for a short time to stem the tide of public sex that had been going taking place there for, oh, several decades. They reinstated the doors fairly quickly, as I remember, but a number gay nightclubs have removed the locks from the doors for the same reason. I recall at least one or two that had no doors either. Talk about awkward.
posted by mykescipark at 4:47 AM on December 4, 2005

I think it's mostly a matter of polite notification that yes, there is someone in the stall, sometimes especially because there is one stall in the more cramped variety.

Personally, I would prefer to know if someone else were there, instead of walking up to the urinal and mid-stream being suddenly surprised by some noise coming from the non-entrance side of the room. It's about as respectful as knocking on an open door when you enter any other kind of room to announce your presence so you don't spook the current inhabitant.

I personally loathed the elementary school bathroom -- I'm a very private person and even at home alone I do all my changing in the bathroom after a shower, bringing all my new clothes in with me -- because there were no doors at all, and the stall walls (brick & mortar) only went up to about chest level if you were standing up. I learned to hold it ;-P
posted by vanoakenfold at 6:49 AM on December 4, 2005

Incidentally, I also sniff loudly when entering a public restroom, to make sure anyone sacrificing at the porcelain altar knows someone has come in.
posted by vanoakenfold at 6:50 AM on December 4, 2005

Do you, like me, have modified behavior in airliner toilets? Can people hear over the whooshing of the flight? I act as if so. Generally there is a line so there is no interval before or after a heavy session - difficult, requiring "standing time" while odors are dispersed. Then there is the etiquette of entering and leaving - which usually involves pushing part another, but without eye contact and acknowledgment of what has been done/will be done. And then there is the uni-sex nature of the cubicle - the surprise factor correlating what is left with who left.
posted by A189Nut at 7:07 AM on December 4, 2005

I always thought the cough to announce you were in a stall was to prevent the scenario, much loved of uninspired sitcom writers, where the two guys at the urinals discuss person X only, hilariously, for person X to walk out of the stall when the two guys are hand washing. Of course, in uninspired sitcom-land, Person X is always the boss.
posted by patricio at 7:26 AM on December 4, 2005

Falconetti, I've long had that exact same impulse and also haven't acted on it. How odd.

Also, I've had co-workers who will go to another building to do their bathroom business. I have to wonder if there's something about IT work that attracts the 'shit-shy.'
posted by kimota at 7:26 AM on December 4, 2005

What is weird is that I always have the urge to say "Ocupado" when someone jiggles

I have this urge, and I'm pretty sure it came from Mystery Science Theater 3000 in my case.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:11 AM on December 4, 2005

I usually rattle the toilet paper dispenser, to say "This stall is in use." For those of you who think the lock will save you, are you kidding? Haven't you ever been in one of those stalls with the knob-turn locks? Where the bolt extends out less than a freakin millimeter? A gentle push will send that door flying open, and then where are you? AwkwardTown.

So yes, I do that, and I don't think it's silly at all.
posted by Sibrax at 8:29 AM on December 4, 2005

I love it when you do make a noise to indicate you're in a stall, but they ignore you and try to open the door anyway, jiggle the lock for 3-4 seconds, then force open the door.

"I'm in here. I'm IN HERE. I'm--"
"--Oh sorry"
"No problem."

What are they thinking? I've done this, but never to completion. The most I've done is jiggled the door handle like an idiot while someone was clearing their throat, but I stopped when actual words were spoken. What I was thinking at the time was, "oh man I hope the handicap stall is free!"
posted by Hildago at 8:32 AM on December 4, 2005

Where I used to work, someone (maybe more than one person? I hope not) used toilet paper wrong.

Here's what it sounded like:

There was no pause between wipes. They were just smearing the poop around their butt.
posted by jewzilla at 8:59 AM on December 4, 2005

The multi-stall bathroom is most certainly the invention of an extrovert. Who wants to stare at someone's shoes while they drop dirt?

You know, in Ireland fairly much all of the college/pub/etc toilet stalls I ever used were made of floor to ceiling block or drywall - essentially separate little rooms next to each other. Maybe a gap of a few centimetres at the base of the door. I remember on moving to the States being quite shocked and intimidated by these flimsy little plastic compartments with the wide open joints and open to the floor.
posted by jamesonandwater at 9:37 AM on December 4, 2005

There was no pause between wipes. They were just smearing the poop around their butt.

Someone at my work bathroom (15 small offices, one bathroom per gender) does this as well. The same person also -never- washes their hands after going to the bathroom. He works in an accounting office.

But at least he doesn't appear to be the culprit who apparently has a spray nozzle attached to the end of his dick and pees from 4 feet from the urinal. This asshole pees everywhere, and I've never figured out who it is to confront him. I hate standing at the urinal in pools of someone else's urine.
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:08 AM on December 4, 2005

Your scenario, patricio, is exactly why I make as little noise as possible, when I'm in the stall and somebody makes an entrance. Never know what you might hear, in an office restroom -- could be something politically useful.

And kimota, I'd bet people going to the neighboring building just have bashful bladders. It's easier to go when you know your neighbors are strangers. I know, I have this condition, and it's 'safest' for me to always choose the stall (although when I'm in a hurry, I'll go up to a urinal and hope for the best). Once in the stall, I often have to wait until I'm alone in the room, and then, finally, relief.
posted by Rash at 11:00 AM on December 4, 2005


I think the more disturbing aspect of this is that each wipe is audible. What the hell are they doing?
posted by chrismear at 11:51 AM on December 4, 2005

But this announcement of presence isn't just happening in bathrooms. Am I the only one who drags or clatters his shoes a little bit when coming up behind someone in a quiet hallway or street?
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:55 PM on December 4, 2005

Response by poster: I was thinking back on it, and I remembered that I kind of picked up the habit freshman year in college. There, we had coed bathrooms with two stalls. Initially, it was really uncomfortable "making bank deposits at the ATM" and having a female RA or neighbor walk in. It was even more awkward having her enter the stall next to you and hearing everything. You always knew who the other person was, and I'm certain they knew it was you. I got used to it eventually to the point that it wasn't even a big deal, but I think that's where it originated.
posted by spiderskull at 2:19 PM on December 4, 2005

I can't believe no one made reference to the 'Survival Guide for Taking a Dump at Work'

My favorite(s)

SAFE HAVENS -- A seldom-used bathroom somewhere in the building where you can least expect visitors. Try floors that are predominantly of the opposite sex. This will reduce the odds of a pooer of your sex entering the bathroom.

FLY BY -- The act of scouting out a bathroom before pooing. Walk in and check for other pooers. If there are others in the bathroom, leave and come back again. Be careful not to become a FREQUENT FLYER. People may become suspicious if they catch you constantly going into the bathroom
posted by jasondigitized at 3:19 PM on December 4, 2005

I should have included these from the Guide for relevance:

CAMO-COUGH -- A phoney cough that alerts all new entrants into the bathroom that you are in a cubicle. This can be used to cover-up a WATERMELON, or to alert potential Turd Burglars. Very effective when used in conjunction with an ASTAIRE.

ASTAIRE -- A subtle toe-tap that is used to alert potential Turd Burglars that you are occupying a cubicle. This will remove all doubt that the cubicle is occupied. If you hear an Astaire, leave the bathroom immediately so the pooer can poo in peace.
posted by jasondigitized at 3:24 PM on December 4, 2005

Falconetti, kimota, PinkStainlessTail: Add me to the list of people who want to say "occupado." Interestingly enough with the amount of times I've said it silently in my head I've never actually said it out loud.

I've always wondered where it comes from for me as well. Perhaps it's just the perfect word for the situation. "Occupied" is too clinical. It needs that Spanish flare to show I'm not a dork.
posted by tinamonster at 10:04 PM on December 4, 2005

don't worry. they check for "legs' under the stall when they enter....
posted by Izzmeister at 6:57 PM on December 5, 2005

What the hell are they doing?

I hope I never know.
posted by jewzilla at 8:50 PM on December 6, 2005

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