Lavatories: Laboratories of Human Behavior
December 4, 2005 1:16 AM   Subscribe

Inspired by this thread, I am interested in learning about idiosyncratic public restroom behavior.

If you can point be to a book or article on this sort of topic that would be great, but feel free to share your own stories.

To break the ice: I sometimes make sympathetic grunts if another bathroom user is eliminating unusually loud so that they think I am having a tough time too and they don't feel bad.
posted by Falconetti to Society & Culture (94 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I point you to this book, kind sir.
posted by scarabic at 2:08 AM on December 4, 2005

I depress the flush with my foot.
posted by A189Nut at 4:38 AM on December 4, 2005

I have friend who does her business by standing with her feet on the toilet seat, and squatting. To prevent splash-back from that height she first layers the surface of the water with sheets of toilet paper.

She prefers to use a public restrooms and keeps a mental inventory of suitable locations: preferably in a fancy hotel or high end shop, with only one toilet per locking restroom, and a window that can be opened to the outside.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:28 AM on December 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

Something I've noticed at the office: our mens' restroom has two toilets and one urinal, each in its own stall. If all three stalls are full and a fourth person comes in, this fourth person always says very loudly: "Looks like we got a full house in here!" Every time. Every person. That exact phrase. Like clockwork.
posted by Servo5678 at 5:34 AM on December 4, 2005

courtesy flush!
posted by takeyourmedicine at 5:39 AM on December 4, 2005

A conversation with the girl mentioned above may go like this: "OK, let's go see that movie. I am in your neighborhood, I'll just stop by the pooping place and then I will ring your buzzer, and we can head over there."
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:40 AM on December 4, 2005

So pooping girl refuses to use the toilet at your house?
posted by rxrfrx at 5:51 AM on December 4, 2005

First, there is a strict order in toilet usage. I remember there was once a flash game on this, in fact. You have to always choose the most "protected" toilet or urinal, and it's the duty of anyone entering after you too take the furthest-away station.

Next, as mentioned above, the courtesy flush, rarely used.

Also, If you enter a public restroom and one of the stalls is occupied and you enter another, you must realize the occupant who's been there the longest rules the roost. You're required to be quick and exit your stall first, but, if the existing occupate makes exiting noises, you have to wait until he's left the room entirely before you can leave the stall. Of course, if it seems like he's taking too long at the sink you're excused.

Keep flushing until all the debris are gone. If it's a restroom you use every day, and you know it's got a weak flusher, this is doubly important.

If you're on your cell phone I will make as many bathroom noises as possible

Not a rule, but gross: I'm certain that most men only wash their hands if there's someone else in the room.

These all apply to men only.
posted by sohcahtoa at 5:53 AM on December 4, 2005

I know a guy that takes all his clothes off, Constanza-style, when he poops, even in stalls in public restrooms.
posted by amarynth at 5:56 AM on December 4, 2005

sohcahtoa, here's that flash game.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:06 AM on December 4, 2005

So pooping girl refuses to use the toilet at your house?

Pooping girl doesn't even use the toilet at her own house. For one thing, if you pile all that paper in there you need a pretty industrial toilet to handle it. Not to mention supplying all that paper.

Pooping girl also uses her feet to flush, and even to turn the sink on and off if possible. Otherwise she will use a mitten of toilet paper.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:06 AM on December 4, 2005

Not a rule, but gross: I'm certain that most men only wash their hands if there's someone else in the room.

I was going to point out that after I pee in a public restroom, I wash my hands only if someone else is present.

(If I am taking a shit, of course I wash my hands even if it's only me and The Lord in there.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:09 AM on December 4, 2005

At my last workplace, almost no one washed their hands. At my current workplace almost everyone does.
posted by grouse at 6:14 AM on December 4, 2005

Things were so bad in a place I was seconded to earlier this year that Facilities had to put up a sign in each stall telling the occupant not to leave without flushing.
posted by patricio at 6:17 AM on December 4, 2005

In the bathrooms where I work, I've noticed a recent return to the "turn on the faucet and wave hands near the water," which is a gross compromise to the internal "wash/not wash" debate. Especially because there's lots of dust and dirt in the environment, and those who wash their hands tend to do so both before AND after doing their thing.

Also, I've always wondered why it's "taking a shit" instead of "leaving a shit."
posted by nevercalm at 6:28 AM on December 4, 2005

Okay, I'll reveal myself as the first real weirdo in this thread. I think I have mild (undiagnosed) OCD. When I saw "The Aviator", the bathroom scenes seemed frighteningly familiar. I'm not anywhere near as bad as Howard Hughes, but I can imagine myself developing that way.

I HATE going to public restrooms, and I'll do anything to avoid it, but I can't really avoid it. For one thing, I'm an introvert. And bathroom time is when my introversion is at its peak. If I'm in a stall, and I'm finished crapping, I'll stay in the stall until everyone else is either gone or in a stall themselves. I don't want to run into other people at the sink.

I'm also something of a germaphope -- pretty much only in the bathroom (I don't have an issue with shaking people's hands or anything like that). I wish a guilty party here would admit to peeing on the toilet seat. Such people are my nemesis. If I MUST sit down on a toilet, it's vital to me that it's a clean one. So I generally go stall to stall, searching for one. Sometimes there isn't one. Even if the seat is clean, sometimes there's unflushed matter in the bowl. I know that "cleaning" the toilet would be a matter of simply flushing, but just the fact that it's unflushed is horrible to me.

Often, there IS no clean toilet, so I have to clean one myself. This involves a long session with toilet paper and water. (And every once in a while, I think about buying a b bottle of disinfectant, because I know my cleaning method just makes it LOOK clean -- but I refuse to let myself spiral into that level of mental illness).

Once the seat is clean, I start on the floor. That's right. I can't be in a stall that has pee on the floor. What if I pull my pants down and they get pee on them?!? So I get more toilet paper and scrub the floor.

Once I'm done doing my business, my goal is to get out without touching anything. I flush with my foot and use a paper towel to help me open the door.

I REALLY hate washing my hands, because I have to touch the faucet, and I once was really proud of myself, because I worked out an elaborate way to use the bathroom without touching anything at all -- so I felt there was no need to wash my hands. But then a co-worker saw me leaving the bathroom without washing my hands, and he yelled at me, "Hey! Wash your hands!" I thought about explaining my system to him, but I realized he'd think I was totally insane. So now I endure the hand-wash just to show people that I'm sanitary, even though my hands never touch anything except toilet paper.

(And I NEVER touch the end of the toilet paper that the person before me might have touched!)

I go in and out of this state, and I don't want anyone to think I'm a total basket-case. Most of the time, I just THINK these things. In other words, I get a strong feeling that I WANT to stay in the stall and wait for everyone to exit (or I WANT to clean the floor), but I stop myself from giving in to these urges.
posted by grumblebee at 6:35 AM on December 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

After washing my hands, before leaving the toilet, I would take a piece of toilet paper in my hand, so that my hand would not be in direct contact with the toilet door handle.

I think its kinda weird. But why would anyone wash their hands and contaminate it the moment the use it to open the toilet door?
posted by merv at 6:45 AM on December 4, 2005

I endure the hand-wash just to show people that I'm sanitary, even though my hands never touch anything except toilet paper.

It used to bother me, from a logic point of view, that washing after bathrooms is considered necessary. Although I slavishly complied with convention, it never made a lot of sense to me because I don't touch anything but paper, either. From a health standpoint, it would make more sense to wash before you pee, to prevent all the bad germs in the regular environment from colonizing your clean nether regions via your hands.

Now I understand that post-toilet handwashing has a certain utility, though not for the reason we think. Most people don't wash their hands often enough. Every doorknob, stair rail, cabinet door, kitchen appliance, office machine you touch is covered with nasty bacteria that want to make you sick. If, at a minimum, you at least wash your hands each time you're in the restroom, you will accomplish several washings a day, which is a great help.
posted by Miko at 6:49 AM on December 4, 2005

Am I mistaken or do American toilets contain more water in the bowl - eg a level higher up, nearer the rim - than European? When in America I often fear the "bidet effect" of a heavy splashdown.
posted by A189Nut at 7:00 AM on December 4, 2005

To the germaphobe, you might be glad to know that urine is remarkably sterile, according to numerous articles and sites and even some news bits I've read.

Even if you were to stand barefoot in a puddle of it inadvertently, get some on your hand while wiping down a lid, or even somehow ingesting (wtf?) it the odds are tremendously in your favor that you're safe.
posted by vanoakenfold at 7:08 AM on December 4, 2005

"If you're going to wash your hands after you pee, you might as well wash your dick." --George Carlin (I think)
posted by Mach5 at 7:21 AM on December 4, 2005

A189Nut - This thread's for you. The FPP link is sadly gone, but a copy is on

"Not so the German toilet. The excrement lands on a bone-dry horizontal shelf, mere inches beneath one's posterior."
posted by rolypolyman at 7:23 AM on December 4, 2005

I happily use any public convenience without fear of germs and illness. I'll sit on the seat, handle the door handles and, horror of horros, sometimes I won't even wash my hands. I haven't been ill in over 4 years, no so much as a stomach bug or sniffle. Weird habits? I'll always courtesy flush, in a private bathroom I'll run a tap to save nearby inhabitants from hearing my farts and splashes, I always read something while dropping the kids off at the pool and I always check the paper after a wipe. feels good to share...
posted by brautigan at 7:26 AM on December 4, 2005

One time, while I was working at dotcom division of a fairly major bank, I went into the lav to sit a spell. When I came out, there was a guy with his shoes off washing his feet at the sink. That has to have been the most disturbing bathroom thing I'd ever seen.

On the topic of not washing up after a turn at the urinal: Unless you've pissed all over your hands, there's nothing dirty about your penis. You should probably wash your hands before (or wash your penis after. That would make for some great stories).
posted by jimfl at 7:27 AM on December 4, 2005

horror of horrors even...
posted by brautigan at 7:27 AM on December 4, 2005

They hired somebody who was gravitationally challenged, to the tune of about 1/4 ton, I'd guess.
Person goes in every day and uses the regular stall, not the handicapped with the bars to use to get up and down. Every day, same stall. One day, I notice the commode feels a bit loose and quit using that one. Having cut myself once on a piece of broken porcelain, I am not about to take any chances with my nether regions.
Sure enough, one day I wander in there, and said commode is now laying on the floor, broken, on a piece of cardboard. That went on for a while, then someone decided to remove the wall into the next stall, presumably to make it easier to fix. Nothing changes for about 6, 8 months. Maintenance tells me that they are waiting for parts. Apparently, old plumbing requires compatible parts, which are hard to come by. Or something. The pipe is bent inside the wall, and you can't do this with any old pipe, it has to be the right pipe. Time passes. More time passes. Eventually, the plumbers come, and re-hang the new potty, explain to the Maintenance people it is vitally important that no one touch it for 24 hours so the glue to the wall can set up properly, and leave.
Later in the day I notice the Village Idiot, who belongs to Maintenance, wandering into the room with a screwdriver. An hour later, the commode is now back on the floor, broken. The wall has been reinstalled. (That becomes important later in the story.) This time, apparently in response to popular opinion, they omit the step where they rip the wall out again.
Maintenance then explains that they are negotiating with the plumbers to make them come back and re-hang the offending fixture. The plumbers, quite reasonably, take the narrow view that they fixed it once, and if you broke it after we left that's your problem. Being it was an 11,000$ job, the conversation got pretty lively, and there were threats of lawsuits. It was blatantly obvious to the most casual observer that the Village Idiot had, in fact, stood on the thing while he was re-hanging the wall and taken it out. Still more time passes.
Total elapsed time spent by the commode on cardboard on the floor = well over a year.
There is no actual point to this story, other than one must never under-estimate the depths of human stupidity. And always listen to your ass.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 7:28 AM on December 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

sohcahtoa, please tell me you've seen "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle."
posted by kimota at 7:34 AM on December 4, 2005

I haven't. I always say, to the wife, "Let's watch that movie!". She always shuts me down. She's also out of town until Christmas. Hmm.
posted by sohcahtoa at 7:37 AM on December 4, 2005

I actually wish more women would sit on the seats. Guys would be amazed and disgusted to know how common it is to encounter a urine-splashed seat. This is caused by women whose precious asses are so delicate that they are afraid to allow their thigh skin to come into contact with clean porcelain. Therefore, they hover inches above the seat, and make a mess. The self-centeredness of this behavior bothers me as much as its illogic; they got a clean toilet, and now they've ruined it for everyone else.

A lot of women claim they do this and "never splash". They're wrong.
posted by Miko at 7:44 AM on December 4, 2005

Which of you pisses through the hole in the seat? Gentlemen, it just doesn't work. Lift the damn thing!
posted by thejoshu at 7:48 AM on December 4, 2005

The whole "get as far away from everybody else as possible while doing your business" paranoia doesn't seem as strong in women. For instance, when in a public washroom with friends (YES WE GO IN PACKS I KNOW), conversation can very easily continue throughout the excercise, regardless or whether all or some of the involved parties are in stalls. This seems perfectly normal to me, and not at all embaressing.

Also, in my experience it's about 50/50 whether while I'm in the facilities whether the next girl to enter will select a near or far stall. I've had many many instances of a stranger using the very next stall even when there are many stalls. And there's no "if there are three, never select the middle one" rule. Do other gals notice this too?
posted by nelleish at 7:51 AM on December 4, 2005

So I'm in the toilet at work and there's one other person in some nearby stall. As I'm sitting there, I hear her say quietly:

'Oh my gosh. Oh, boy.'

As far as my weird bathroom behavior goes, I flush with my shoe instead of my hand, and I won't touch the faucet or the door handle after I wash my hands. I mean, what's the point of cleaning up and then getting people's butt particles all over you? I use my sleeve or a towel. If my coworkers weren't such pigs, I probably wouldn't have developed these little oddities.
posted by rebirtha at 7:59 AM on December 4, 2005

The whole "get as far away from everybody else as possible while doing your business" paranoia doesn't seem as strong in women.

It runs so strong in me.

Also, in my experience it's about 50/50 whether while I'm in the facilities whether the next girl to enter will select a near or far stall. I've had many many instances of a stranger using the very next stall even when there are many stalls. And there's no "if there are three, never select the middle one" rule. Do other gals notice this too?

I've noticed all of that and I hate it. I never use the middle stall and really annoys the hell out me when some stranger can't walk two more feet to the third stall. What is that about anyway?

Also, I can't stand it women hang around in the bathroom socializing. Once you've used the bathroom and washed your hands, leave. These women always stand right where the stall area changes to the sink area and so I have to dodge around them to get to the sinks. It's really annoying.
posted by nooneyouknow at 8:02 AM on December 4, 2005

I read an article in a Sociology class about public restroom behavior once...of course, I no longer have the book it was in and have no idea who it's by. I'm sure there are other ones out there if you want to check educational journals.

I'm pretty normal in public restrooms, but to agree with some things already said... I hate it when women squat and get pee all over the seat. I usually pick stalls without people around them if I can..I would never use the next stall to someone if there were other ones there. If it's possible, I flush with my foot. Oh, and I used to be somewhat afraid of foam soap but I've gotten over it for the most part...I still don't like it though.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 8:10 AM on December 4, 2005

Obligatory Toilet Humor link


Definition: A phony cough which alerts all new entrants into the bathroom that you are in a stall. This can be used to cover-up a WATERMELON or to alert potential TURD BURGLARS. Very effective when used in conjunction with an ASTAIRE.

Click here
posted by merv at 8:22 AM on December 4, 2005

Miko has it exactly right; even if you think your genitalia are clean, you should wash your hands, since you've been touching germ-laden everything all day. Wash your hands more, get sick less.
posted by gramcracker at 8:37 AM on December 4, 2005

I've always wondered if it is rude to let one rip while standing at a urinal.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 8:41 AM on December 4, 2005

After washing my hands, before leaving the toilet, I would take a piece of toilet paper in my hand, so that my hand would not be in direct contact with the toilet door handle.
posted by merv at 6:45 AM PST on December 4 [!]

I used to work with a guy who was quite germaphobic. After washing his hands, he would take the paper towel he used to dry with, and use it as a "guard" to open the door, prop the door open with his foot, throw the paper towel away, and exit. Pretty deft maneuver, actually.

Also, since we're sharing... I'm fairly bathroom shy (but quite extroverted otherwise, go figure), but one thing I don't like is too much social contact in the bathroom. In fact, at work a few friends and I have jokingly come up with some notional guidelines:
1. No looking.
2. No touching.
3. No talking. Talk may continue upon entering the bathroom. But try to avoid striking up a conversation. Especially, activity-centered ones ("Yeah, that's a good one." Ack!).

You'd think these would be self-evident. But #2 has occurred by the same offender more than once to more than one person. Not a sexual thing, but by a (married, hetero) guy with some social "weirdness".
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:45 AM on December 4, 2005

merv - Exactly what I was looking for!! I find that list way too funny, and acurate. I know, I need help...
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:49 AM on December 4, 2005

1) I'm a foot flusher too.
2) And I flip the seat up with my foot if I don't need to sit down.
3) And I'll stay in the stall until everyone else is either gone or in a stall themselves.
4) Oh, and if someone enters the room, I'll move my feet closer to me and away from the door to reduce the chance of being recognized.
5) And if I need to use a stall and there's someone in one of the others, I'm coming back later.
6) And finally, if I'm in a stall and someone else comes into one of the others, I stick my fingers in my ears. Having to listen to someone else go, replete with grunts, sniffles and farts is quite simply the most revolting situation I could ever possibly have to endure in the course of my lifetime.
posted by forallmankind at 9:13 AM on December 4, 2005

ObscureReferenceMan: touching what, exactly???
posted by forallmankind at 9:16 AM on December 4, 2005

"I always read something while dropping the kids off at the pool"
Correct me if I am wrong, But I allways thought this was a euphism for masturbating in the shower..
Pardon me if thats what you meant...
posted by JonnyRotten at 9:20 AM on December 4, 2005

I'll use a paper towel to open the door. Those handles are literally coated with a layer of other people's shit. Ugh.

I really hate it when there's a line of urinals and some freak decides he wants to stand right beside me. That's just wrong.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:21 AM on December 4, 2005

grumblegree -- I'll throw in with you on most of those habits. I related to shitbreak's character in that teen movie about getting laid by prom. I'm pretty neurotic about the floor around a toilet (imagine dragging a piss-stain out into the real world on your pantleg--gross!) and I try not to touch anything bare-handed. The one exception to this is pumping a few inches of paper towel out of the dispenser before washing my hands, so that when I'm done I can use that bit to operate the dispenser with for the hand-drying length of paper.

One other connundrum I've thought heavily on is writing on the walls. The very idea of it (in ordinary public places--like the mall, not a dive bar or something) is so idiotic that I want to reach out and smack the people who do it. Dick-sucking, gang-tagging, phone numbers, WTF? But I can't think of a way of expressing my disgust other than to write them a note on the wall myself.
posted by carsonb at 9:24 AM on December 4, 2005

ObscureReferenceMan: touching what, exactly???

Actually, this rule got implemented when I was using the urinal, and the offender came in, and on his way to the stall, said, "hey, how are you?". And then gave me a little back slap/shoulder rub. WTF?!?!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:38 AM on December 4, 2005

JonnyRotten: Dropping the kids off at the pool is basically the same as giving birth to a brown baby. Was a South Park-ism I think.
posted by brautigan at 9:41 AM on December 4, 2005

Dropping the kids off at the pool is taking a shit.
posted by sohcahtoa at 9:42 AM on December 4, 2005

And came well before South Park.
posted by sohcahtoa at 9:43 AM on December 4, 2005

What exactly are all the foot-flushers afraid of? Is there a rational basis for this behaviour as I see it as pretty damn weird. Anyone ever really gotten ill from washroom bugs?
posted by brautigan at 9:44 AM on December 4, 2005

Those handles are literally coated with a layer of...

Anyone see that article about the complimentary mints by the register at diners? Apparently people use the toilet and then go to pay, leaving measurable traces of urine on the mints.

After the article came out most of the diners around here switched to a deeper bowl with a spoon for retrieving the mints.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:47 AM on December 4, 2005

Maybe its a regional thing.. My friends and I called it that WAY before south park.. Since sperm is potential kids and such, and you were "dropping" them off in the shower or while on the toilet, it made WAY more sense then using it to talk about taking a dump.
Not really used to describe the act.. more as a insult or jibe when someone was in the bathroom for awhile and we would say "what were you doing man, dropping the kids off at the pool?"

Kinda like people saying "So I took a upper decker in her office" where a upper decker to us was where you poop in the tank of the toilet so the next person that fluhses gets a brown flood.
posted by JonnyRotten at 9:54 AM on December 4, 2005

At my office, every bathroom has three urinals, the third of which is considerably lower than the others, to accomodate the hanidcapped, I guess. For some reason, no one likes to use the low urinal. Therefore, the urinal-order usage rules are habitually broken. Under these rules, when all three urinals are unoccupied, pee'er #1 would be expected to go to urinal #1. Pee'er #2, then, of course, would be expected to go to urinal #3. But, noooo, that's the dreaded low urinal, so #2 goes to #2, every freakin' time. I've learned to fight this by heading straight for the low urinal. Pee'er #2, then, can stay a comfortable distance away.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:57 AM on December 4, 2005

I'm a foot-flusher, especially on industrial-style toilets with the thing that sticks out.
I'm a believer in the "get as far away as possible" etc. rule, and yes, it bugs me that other women seem not to care. I do think the rules can be bent a little if one occupant is in the handicapped stall AND the new arrival knows that the location of the toilet in the stall is farther away from the shared stall wall than normal.
I'm a huge proponent of the "oldest occupant rules the roost" method described here. I hate running into people at the sink.
I recently invented a new method at work -- forgive me if this is actually an old method, but I was very excited to find it -- the toilet stays clean if you float a few pieces of toilet paper on the top of the water before sitting down post-morning-coffee. Everything lands on the paper, the paper protects the toilet, and one flush is sufficient for a clean toilet.
But my weirdest thing:
Sometimes if I've made it particularly stinky in a public bathroom, and I want to be able to pretend it was the person just before me, I push on the door of a different stall that I wasn't in so if someone walks in they will see the other door swinging and think I just came out of that one instead of the stinky one.
posted by librarina at 10:11 AM on December 4, 2005

Hmmm, I don't think I'm too nuts about using public bathrooms, but here goes (I'm female):

I'll go in, and if there's more than one toilet/stall, I'll take whatever looks the cleanest. I don't hover unless its really, really bad, and I really, really have to go. I do my business, flush with my foot, and I'll go out and wash my hands. Thouroughly. Even without bathroom visits, I'd estimate that I wash my hands about 10-15 times a day (I live in NYC, so I'll always wash before eating since I've touched door handles, subway ples, etc). Anyway, after I wash my hands, I'll dry them, toss the paper towels, and get a new paper towel to open the door with, since you hear all these crazy stats about how you disgusting people never wash your hands! EW!

Oh, and I have a favorite public restroom. Its downstairs at Grand Central Station. I believe they're the "west" bathrooms, near Hale & Hearty Soups. (They're the newer, marble bathrooms.) No faucets to touch, air dryers, and no door to open after I finish drying my hands, just a hallway leading out.

Alright, maybe I am a little wierd about the hand washing thing.
posted by AlisonM at 10:15 AM on December 4, 2005

rolypolyman, Scott's page on German Toilets now lives here. And jimfl, be advised washing both hands AND feet is required of muslims, before prayer. Because of this, they put a special premium on bathrooms with a faucet down near the floor and drain.
posted by Rash at 10:34 AM on December 4, 2005

Man, you guys are way too concerned about germs. I'm a firm believer in the "moderate exposure to bacteria is healthy!" theory, and will touch all manner of handles, faucets and toilet seats unless they're visibly soiled. Foot flushing? You realize the soles of your shoes are far more likely to be dirty than the handle, right? And then there's all the studies (and Mythbusters, of course) that basically say if you're trying to avoid floating fecal particles by [insert strange bathroom ritual here], you're just deluding yourself. Shit specks are everywhere. You've probably breathed, swallowed and absorbed through your skin enough shit to take an additional dump during your lifetime. You could probably lick the toilet seat and not make an appreciable impact on the amount of shit your body will absorb. There's nothing you can do about any of this, but it doesn't matter because hey—you're still alive.

My strange bathroom habit? I get really drowsy in the early afternoon, especially if I work in an office and there's nothing to do. So I sleep in the stalls. I've gotten way too good at this.
posted by chrominance at 10:35 AM on December 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

Also, jimfl, there's nothing dirty about my penis, but how do I know about yours? In other words, how do you feel about shaking some guy's hand who just went to the bathroom and didn't wash up?

However, total agreement with chrominance on the germ exposure thing. Aren't you phobic types familar with Nietzsche?

That which does not kill me, makes me stronger
posted by Rash at 11:05 AM on December 4, 2005

there was a guy with his shoes off washing his feet at the sink

There are a couple of building in Minneapolis where this has been an issue, due to large neighborhood populations of Somali men who need to perform ablutions before prayers. Wall-mounted sinks aren't always designed or installed to stand up to this kind of use. There's probably a good market opportunity there for someone to sell some alternative plumbing fixtures.
posted by gimonca at 11:39 AM on December 4, 2005

I used to work with a guy who was quite germaphobic. After washing his hands, he would take the paper towel he used to dry with, and use it as a "guard" to open the door, prop the door open with his foot, throw the paper towel away, and exit.

That is not germaphobic (in the pathology sense), nor is it even remotely weird. It's sensible. Having worked in a number of hospitals, I've had the good fortune to be taught how to use a public restroom by a series of public health experts, and not touching the door handle on the way out is part of the protocol. It should be standard behaviour.

The point is not whether urine is sterile (it is, or should be), or whether you're breathing in teeny turdicles if you can smell someone else's leavings (you are). The point is that the restroom is a collecting node, a repository, a distribution center for "germs" -- bacteria, viruses, even dangerous protozoa, but most especially viruses (flu, rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, hepatitis A and more).

Here's the protocol I was taught:

1. Do your thing; cleaning of seats (and floors) is not entirely necessary, but it's a good idea to wipe up visible liquid. If the seat is dry, seat covers are reasonable insulation against whatever invisibles are still there. Likewise washing your hands first won't hurt, but isn't necessary unless you have something dire on them.

2. Wash your hands. Wash them properly -- most of you think you do this, and most of you don't. Use soap and water; do not use antibacterial anything; take at least as long to wash your hands as it takes you to sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" in your head (or out loud, if you like). Use enough soap to get a good thick lather going. Wash the backs of your hands, wash between your fingers, do each finger individually, go up your wrist at least as far as where a watch sits, scrabble your fingertips in your palms to get under fingernails.

3. Rinse thoroughly -- use all the same motions.

4. Dry your hands. If there's a tap rather than an infrared sensor, elbow tap or foot pedal (preferred options all), then turn it on before you start washing and use a paper towel to turn it off. You'll probably want to use your second paper towel, since they're pretty flimsy and the first will probably be pretty well saturated (unless you frequent a better class of bog than I do). The object is not to touch any bathroom surface with your clean hands. All of those surfaces are trying to kill you. Use the paper towel to open the door, too.

Following this simple protocol is, seriously, the most important and effective thing you can do to improve public (and your) health. If everyone does this, infectious disease transmission rates will plummet. Don't just take my word for it:

The most important thing that you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands. -- CDC's Natl Center for Infectious Diseases

Posters, videos, etc from the Natl Food Service Management Inst

Hand washing is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of infections. -- Canadian Center for Occ Health and Safety, from the Am Soc Microbiol

On preview -- was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich staerker is bullshit, and so is the idea that "a little exposure to infectious agents is healthy". Chrominance, Rash -- it's true that we don't want to live in a bubble lest our immune systems never see any sort of challenge, but getting sick is not good for you. You get plenty of exposure to the sorts of things that will keep your immune system ticking over without exposing yourself to the sorts of serious hazards that public restrooms, by their very nature, tend to accumulate.
posted by sennoma at 11:44 AM on December 4, 2005

In my junior year of high school, a student government candidate won entirely on the platform of getting dividers put in between urinals in all the men's bathrooms. Somehow they actually managed to appropriate $1500 from the district to get it done over spring break. I thought it was the biggest waste of money ever.
posted by borkingchikapa at 11:45 AM on December 4, 2005

chrominance - Well said. I'm not OCD about germs, but I do wash after dumping. There are worse things to worry about. (I could have sworn this was posted before, but I couldn't find it.)
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 11:48 AM on December 4, 2005

OK, here are my two cents.

I know a guy who won't shit poop at work. He either holds it in or travels all the way uptown to relieve himself at his own house. And he thinks this is normal.

Also, I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the technique ofusing toilet paper to form a barrier between butt and porcelain.
posted by captainscared at 11:52 AM on December 4, 2005

OK. One more. Thanks to the ladies for reminding me...

While playing paintball, I went to use the port-a-john. When I opened the door, I noticed, um... a "log" on the lid. Needless to say, I exited and went to the next one. When I met up with my friends again, I related the incident. One of the women said, "Oh. It was probably a girl." When I asked why she thought that, she mentioned that a lot of women "hover". And this probably just one "missed".

sennoma - Sorry to mislead. That particular behavior was not this guy's most germaphobic. Just one example. I actually thought the door trick was smarter than the washing.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 12:02 PM on December 4, 2005

ORM: ah, I get your point now.

I misunderstood because many people do see effective public bathroom technique, like the door trick, as "germophobia".
posted by sennoma at 12:09 PM on December 4, 2005

OK, I can resist anymore ...

I know a guy who won't shit poop at work. He either holds it in or travels all the way uptown to relieve himself at his own house.

How about the reverse? In a rust belt union shop that I worked at once (visiting contractor for a month), I heard the tale of a guy who would only poop at work. He wouldn't do it at home -- he'd wait until he'd get to work and do it on company time. Note again that these are union guys and the hourly rate is pretty good. Supposedly he'd been doing this religiously and had pooped on the clock exclusively for 15 years.

Smart time management, if you ask me.

Another item that I don't think has been raised here yet is that of the embarrassing stink that isn't yours. You enter the bathroom to find it stunk up, do your thing, wash up, but before you leave someone else comes in and then associates the stink with you. This goes for elevators as well -- your first thought upon entering is "whew, easy on the cologne, Romeo", but then becomes "oh shit, the next person on will think it's me".

Neuroses galore!
posted by intermod at 12:32 PM on December 4, 2005

Response by poster: I know a guy who won't shit poop at work.

How about the reverse?

I though for sure you were going to say "poop shit."
posted by Falconetti at 1:08 PM on December 4, 2005

Kinda like people saying "So I took a upper decker in her office" where a upper decker to us was where you poop in the tank of the toilet so the next person that fluhses gets a brown flood.

That sort of jackass stunt should rightfully terminate one's life privileges. Shot dead on the spot.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:20 PM on December 4, 2005

I also use the towel as a barrier for the door handle, it bothers me again and again,"Why do they make bathroom doors that swing in, instead of the reverse?" I applaud the powers that be that let you push open the door with one's foot, hip, back, etc, instead forcing one to turn a handle and pull. Meh.

In a job at a fairly sized bookstore, I was stuck with cleaning the bathrooms. Thats a one urinal, one stall for men, and four stalls for women, job. I actually felt that the women left the messiest bathroom, due in part, to the "hovering" business.

Primetime, I believe, did a test of bathrooms. They discovered that the toilet handle had less germs than the faucet handle, in part to people refusing to touch the toilet handle, then walking over and turning on the faucet. Their advice: use a paper towel to turn off the water (unless they have the futuristic motion sensor faucets). They also suggested avoiding the hot air hand dryers and to choose paper towels instead. Why? The dryers merely recirculate all the air in the bathroom and blow it directly onto your hands. Yum.
posted by Atreides at 1:35 PM on December 4, 2005

OK, two stories:

1) In regards to "After washing my hands, before leaving the toilet, I would take a piece of toilet paper in my hand, so that my hand would not be in direct contact with the toilet door handle." my late uncle's band used to play bars that were so dirty we'd claim to use paper towel on the door leading into the bathroom.

2) Regarding conversation between stalls: I once walked into a bathroom which had one urinal and two stalls, and heard the following from the stalls:

Voice one:"I'm gonna kick your ass!"
Voice two:"No way, I'll kick your ass!"
*various straining noises from both stalls*
*flushing noise from stall one, followed by "HA HA, I TOLD YOU! I TOTALLY KICKED YOUR ASS!"*

Yes, the two stall occupants were having a pooping race.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:47 PM on December 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

In most public restrooms, I'll choose my stall according to these protocol:

First pick: Clean stall against a wall with nobody next to it (I'll never be surrounded on both sides, so I feel like I have privacy).

Second pick: Clean tall with nobody next to it on either side.

Third pick: Clean stall with one person next to it, if possible, or surrounded, if necessary.

Fourth pick: Stall with a small amount of pee on the seat, but nothing in the toilet.

I don't go into unflushed stalls, especially when there's brown in there. I'm a vegetarian, and I hate the smell of meaty shits. They make me want to puke.

If there's pee on the seat, I will clean it off and sit down. I'm not a hoverer.

I can't follow these rules at work, because my favorite stall is also the favorite stall of an obese red meat-eater who wears too much perfume and sprays it all around when she's done taking her dump. The stall smells like sweat, meaty shit and over-sweet perfume, and it makes me sick to go near it.

I did't used to care about people being next to my stall, until a guy was caught in an office building I used to work at -- he'd been sneaking into women's restrooms, standing on the seats, and jacking off while looking down on women doing their business. I don't know if he ever watched me, but I do remember wondering what was up with the shoe prints on the seats a few times.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:15 PM on December 4, 2005

did't = didn't
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:15 PM on December 4, 2005

Sometimes I really feel like singing about the experience, just to weird people out. I never actually do it.

As far as your question, refer to the comment I made earlier.
posted by spiderskull at 2:21 PM on December 4, 2005

Why am I still posting to this thread???

I heard the tale of a guy who would only poop at work...
posted by intermod at 12:32 PM PST on December 4 [!]

At work, we debate this very point. Which is better; the at-work-dump (on the company's dime), or HBA (Home Bowl Advantage)?
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 2:21 PM on December 4, 2005

Like AlisonM, sennoma, and Atreides, I do not touch anything after I wash my hands. Not only could I relate to that scene in The Aviator, I could relate to it at an almost completely realistic level. I would have given the guy on crutches the paper towel he was asking for, but after he left, I would have washed my own hands again. Fortunately, I've noticed a trend lately of trash cans standing just inside bathroom doors, as if to assist in the disposal of paper towels used to open the doors. That's very helpful.

jonnyrotten: It's not a regional thing; that metaphor is as old as the hills, and the way that you are using it is not the way that the vast majority of human beings who have ever heard the expression use it. It sounds like either you and your friends were the victim of some mischevious older brother, or one of you incorrectly extrapolated the meaning from the metaphor, and the lot of you have had the misfortune to go on using it the wrong way. However, if you disagree with me, then I strongly suggest that you start approaching people you know offline and asking their opinion. After the first fifty times, you might be embarassed enough to admit the truth. Alternatively, you could google "drop the kids off at the pool" and notice that all 546 entries do not support your interpretation.
posted by bingo at 2:36 PM on December 4, 2005

MrMoonPie mentioned the trend toward installing low-hanging urinals (perhaps due to ADA requirements?) Other than those who leave messes behind for the next "user," this is my pet peeve. There's one little thing I didn't realize about how low-pissers are positioned. One day at work, after I had changed into shorts, it dawned on me that my effluent was ricocheting back onto my lower legs ... every time! Long pants had hidden that little trick before then. Mass dry-cleaning ensued.
posted by rob511 at 2:46 PM on December 4, 2005

posted by bwilms at 3:03 PM on December 4, 2005

Ok, I am a big adherent of many of the rules above. I too am a stall sneaker, I only go in and leave a stall when absolutely no one will identify me doing so. However, thanks to the slobs I work with, I break urinal etiquette in the following manner...

Preface: As mentioned above, our bathrooms have 3 urinals, 2 high, 1 low. There are probably 200 people who use this one bathroom. The most popular urinal, according with urinal etiquette, is #1. Directly beneath this urinal is a correspondingly large puddle of piss. I refuse to use this urinal at all costs. The #3 urinal (the low one) sees the 2nd most frequent use. The middle urinal is used the least, and usually has only a few drops of piss on the floor.

To me, when I'm the first into the room, the only logical choice is the middle urinal. If someone is already there, I'll basically obey the rules, but spread my feet as far as possible to avoid standing in the puddle. Don't even get me started on urinal farting. Men are gross.
posted by knave at 3:14 PM on December 4, 2005

Forgot to mention a couple of my pet peeves. Two things that irk me, and are related. First, guys who don't flush after using the urinal. I'm all for water conservation (and have heard the expression, "If it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown, flush it down"). But, ew. And second, guys at the urinal that flush before they pee, while they're peeing (sometimes more than once), and after their done peeing. What's up with that?

And, finally, some wisdom from Dave Barry (a lot of build-up for item #10).
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 3:26 PM on December 4, 2005

the etiquette at my office is:

each bathroom has 2 urinals, and 2 stalls. You are allowed to talk about non-important things in the urinals (i.e. "I heard it was going to snow"). You are not allowed to talk in the stalls. EVER.

Also, the most polite thing to do is to only poop if the restroom is empty. If you walk in and need to use a stall, and there is someone already using one, you go to the next bathroom. You are obligated to visit every bathroom in the building (we have 2 floors, each with 2 restrooms) before "doubling up".

Has anyone else noticed that since the advent of advanced cellphones, no one takes reading material to the men's room anymore? half the time I need to use a stall, I can hear beeps and clicks of people either playing games on their phone, or surfing the internet. Needless to say, you would never answer the phone while you were in a stall.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 3:46 PM on December 4, 2005

Oh, my god, how I hate hoverers! And at my office, they have toilet seat covers in every stall, so I can't figure out if the hoverers think that the toilet seat covers aren't a good enough barrier, or if they are too lazy to use one.
posted by amarynth at 4:39 PM on December 4, 2005

I know a guy who won't shit poop at work. He either holds it in or travels all the way uptown to relieve himself at his own house. And he thinks this is normal.

Um, hi, I am this guy and I think it's totally, if not normal, then utterly reasonable. I think that people who shit AT work are freaks. (Unless you have some GI problem but only then.)
posted by tristeza at 4:45 PM on December 4, 2005

Man, as long as these is no pee on the seat, I'm happy. And I live in New York: there is no way that there is something more disgusting on the bathroom door handle than on, say, the subway pole. I do flush with my foot, though. Because everyone else does.

In general, I find the prevalence of bathroom anxiety very bizarre. You can hear me? What the fuck did you think I was doing in the bathroom? Someone might accidently open the stall door? No, do not gaze on my naked things! Weird.
posted by dame at 5:22 PM on December 4, 2005

I like to piss as loudly as possible.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:24 PM on December 4, 2005

Needless to say, you would never answer the phone while you were in a stall.

That's what you think, I was at a bar with some workmates a few years ago, I needed to take a piss, and on opening the door I could hear one of the marketing guys talking loudly, in the stall.

I went in, and while I was doing what I needed to, I got to listen to him chatting away with his pal, occasionally pausing to grunt.

It was sublime.
posted by The Monkey at 6:58 PM on December 4, 2005

There was an unspoken rule in my high school about not shitting in the girl's bathroom. The bathrooms were for peeing only, unless you were the only person there. I still follow this rule to some extent.

And as God as my witness, I never hover, and I never will. I hate hoverers with a passion, and will probably snap one day and launch a one-woman public service campaign that involves taping threatening flyers inside stalls, or something.

I think there was actually a follow-up to #10 in that Dave Barry column.
posted by kosher_jenny at 7:15 PM on December 4, 2005

I flush with my foot even at home. Even though very rarely does anyone else use my toilet. Don't ask.

When peeing at home, I always sit down. When (only) peeing anywhere else, I almost never sit down.

Away from home, I try to get in and out quickly. At home, I like to take my time. I nearly always read in the bathroom. The stack of books, magazines, catalogs, newspapers, and crossword puzzles on the toilet tank rivals any other grouping of reading materials in my apartment.

I refuse to use a urinal unless there's no other option. Too much splashback (I'm with you, rob511). If all the stalls were full, but there were 20 urinals available, I'd still wait for a stall.

I have a bit of a shy bladder. Usually it's not really a problem if I have some level of privacy - I have a stall with at least walls, or I don't know anyone else in the bathroom. I've found I'm not comfortable enough to pee with a girl in the bathroom (though I haven't tried it often) but I'm okay with being in the bathroom with a girl while they pee. (And I fairly often have dreams about pooping in a public room. Like with people all around - on a toilet right in the middle of a living room, that kind of thing. In my dreams, I usually start out alone and people show up. I have no problem with anyone being there while I poop, but I don't feel comfortable wiping with anyone still around.)

I, too, avoid touching any surfaces in a public bathroom. Use TP to close and latch/lock the door (in a one-holer) or the stall door, being careful of course to avoid touching the end of the TP that the last person might also have touched. Use more TP to wipe the seat off, even if dry. Roll out some paper towels before washing, and use them to turn off the water and to roll more towels out for drying and for opening the door. I know touching any given surface is probably not going to make me sick, but it squicks me out. I once had a roomate who seemed to never wash his hands unless they were visibly very dirty, like after an oil change or something. He'd go poop, then make himself something to eat. Ewww.
posted by attercoppe at 7:27 PM on December 4, 2005

I have a fierce death-match ongoing with automatic flushing toilets at my place of employment. I prefer to sit if I think that I might have an escapee, but find that if I bend slightly to ease my trousers and belt down -- or so much as flinch -- I unleash a typhoon that splashes me, albeit with nominally clean water. So I have to remain stiffly erect (so to speak) throughout, which really, err, pisses me off.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:56 PM on December 4, 2005

Miko does a good job of describing the girl+women-that-hover effect. But not all the pee splashes come from hovering. There's the after-drip effect as well. When a woman stands up too fast after cutting off the flow, sometimes one last drop drips onto the seat. This can be prevented by sitting a moment after the flow stops, and/or grabbing the toilet paper and wiping while still planted on seat.
posted by raedyn at 7:39 AM on December 5, 2005

attercoppe -- I know touching any given surface is probably not going to make me sick

I buried this in wordiness above, so I guess no one is reading it. (I don't blame them.) I think it bears repeating though -- in a public restroom, ALL the surfaces are trying to kill you. They might only have a common cold to do it with, or they might have no ammunition at all; but then they might have enteropathic E. coli, hepatitis A or the Martian Death-In-A-Welter-Of-Snot flu.

As per the links in my post above, the most important thing that you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands. Having done that, why would you go right from the wash basin and grab hold of the most likely-to-be-contagious surface you can find (tap, door handle)?

Some of your pre-wash surface avoidance is not necessary, but the post-wash technique you describe is exactly right.
posted by sennoma at 10:45 AM on December 5, 2005

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the men-spitting-at-urinals thing. (That's right, spitting, with a P, usually right before they start peeing.)

What's up with this? I see it quite a bit. I've asked some of my friends about it and they either played dumb or really didn't know what I was talking about.

Has anyone else observed this? Know what it's about? Why do men spit at urinals?
posted by CMichaelCook at 11:18 AM on December 5, 2005

in a public restroom, ALL the surfaces are trying to kill you.

No more so in the restroom than in the hallway, stairwell, or kitchenette. Seriously. The restroom, from a public health standpoint, is often a lot cleaner than something like the handle of the office fridge. You can find E. Coli everywhere, especially the kitchen sink (it's often on fresh produce). My friend, the public health nurse, is a lot more concerned about what's passed on doorknobs and handles than in the bathroom. At least bathrooms get a shot of cleaning fluids every now and then. When was the last time you wiped off the doorknob to your office?

We're exposed to harmful bacteria everywhere, all the time. When I taught science, I had a lot of fun teaching kids to take swabs and grow cultures, and then comparing the results to identify the most disgusting places in school. Bathrooms were never very gross; common table surfaces, computer mouses, and frequently used toys were. The reason we aren't sick all the time isn't that there aren't germs everywhere -- there are -- it's that we wash our hands often, enjoy noncompromised immune systems, or are not exposed to harmful numbers of the bad bacteria.
posted by Miko at 2:01 PM on December 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

No more so in the restroom than in the hallway, stairwell, or kitchenette. Seriously.

I believe you. But who washes their hands after opening the fridge? I think the reason public health campaigns focus on restrooms is that it's easier to get people to wash their hands there, and that guarantees at least a couple of washes a day.

Confession: I do wipe down surfaces that I touch a lot, like my mouse and keyboard -- not daily, but every now and then.
posted by sennoma at 7:25 PM on December 5, 2005

Why do men spit at urinals?

I've noticed a distinct lack of spittoons outside of theme park cowboy saloons of late. Where else might a gentleman spit, fart, burp, or otherwise make noise that we aren't allowed to make anywhere else? Isn't that what rest/bathrooms are for?
posted by weirdoactor at 10:47 AM on December 6, 2005

Why do men spit at urinals?

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