Keep out (please)
August 4, 2017 8:08 AM   Subscribe

How do you signal to a politely knocking stranger that this bathroom is occupied?

Maybe I don’t get out in the world enough, but I’ve not yet found a satisfactory response to the common situation of someone knocking at a single bathroom that is currently in use (by me). Barking out “occupied!” feels too weirdly formal, and “…I’m in here” sounds over-familiar and maybe a bit creepy. “Someone’s in here!” is even worse, making me feel like I’m playing hide-and-seek with a stranger. I used to say “Be out in a minute!” but now that feels like an over-share.

Though I definitely understand that I’m overthinking this, it just occurred to me that someone in the Mefi universe is very likely to be happily using a non-awkward, non-brusque reply. Hopefully you are willing to share?
posted by dreamphone to Human Relations (82 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by *s at 8:10 AM on August 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

posted by emeiji at 8:11 AM on August 4, 2017

"Sorry, I'll be right out!"
posted by JanetLand at 8:11 AM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I usually say "just a minute!" but sometimes it takes more time than that (i.e. during my period) and then I get self-conscious imagining someone outside the door with a timer waiting for 60 seconds to pass. In other words, I am eager to see what others suggest here because I am similarly unsure how to handle this situation with any degree of dignity and politeness.
posted by thereemix at 8:11 AM on August 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

"In here!" works for me.
posted by floam at 8:11 AM on August 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

I think anything that's not "Back off, bud!" is fine. I usually call out "be out in a minute" or some variation thereof. It's not an overshare and it's usually not grossly inaccurate. No one is going to time you or make assumptions about what you're doing in there. It's the "how are you doing/I'm fine how are you" of bathroom etiquette - totally courtesy, no real information expected or required.
posted by invincible summer at 8:13 AM on August 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

"Who's there?" and then keep going like it's a knock-knock joke.
posted by Etrigan at 8:14 AM on August 4, 2017 [35 favorites]

Well, I guess I'm formal, though I don't bark. I almost always say "occupied!"
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 8:16 AM on August 4, 2017 [31 favorites]

"Just a moment!" is what I say, surprised and panicked. Then I quietly die inside.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:16 AM on August 4, 2017 [50 favorites]

Might be my stereotypically apologetic Canadian upbringing, but i've never had a problem with "Sorry - occupied!"
posted by cgg at 8:16 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

There's only one answer, and you knew it.


It's not overly formal, or rough - it's a plain statement that I feel confident in using. At work, the bathrooms which are most likely to be used by guests/visitors are also single occupant bathrooms. Some people don't immediately realize that, so when they try to enter and it's locked, they keep trying the door with apparent increasing amounts of force (I guess assuming it's a stalled multi-occupant bathroom and they just need to out-stubborn the door). They've never continued past a reasonably loud "Occupied."

Anything more or different invites conversation, and thus is wrong for the situation.
posted by nobeagle at 8:19 AM on August 4, 2017 [14 favorites]

I usually just say "Yes?"
posted by archimago at 8:20 AM on August 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

Occupied... I mean, that's what the fact that the door is locked indicates, right?

And it's almost always a kid or someone not paying attention who tries the door, anyway. A kid isn't going to care what you say, an adult is going to feel dumb for trying when it was locked, and it's not so much WHAT you say as the fact that you said SOMETHING that gets the point across.

In other words, you're massively overthinking this. (Just make sure you DO lock the door... cuz that's embarrassing for everyone!)
posted by stormyteal at 8:21 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am a native English speaker, but I find that a cheerfully delivered "OCCUPADO!" brings a certain flair to an otherwise uncomfortable situation, and also serves to possibly obscure my identity should I accidentally meet the stall-knocker face-to-face at a later time.
posted by seasparrow at 8:25 AM on August 4, 2017 [25 favorites]

I usually bark "occupied" in my grumpiest voice, but sometimes when I am feeling whimsical, I will trill, "One moment, please!"
posted by coppermoss at 8:29 AM on August 4, 2017

I say "Someone's in here!" which is ridiculous, but I can't stop myself.
posted by mskyle at 8:29 AM on August 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

"occupied!" Anything else sounds like an invitation to a chat.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:30 AM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

If it's an indoor bathroom in a quiet space, I just cough. That's all the person on the other side needs to hear to get the point.

If it's a noisy space, I'll say "Just a minute!" and then proceed to rush myself to be done quickly, in case they're timing me. Sigh.
posted by Mchelly at 8:32 AM on August 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

"Just a minute" or "hey, I'm pooping heah!"
posted by bondcliff at 8:33 AM on August 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

I pretend not to have heard the knock, because by sheer coincidence I have just started a long and loud coughing fit.
posted by Kabanos at 8:33 AM on August 4, 2017 [18 favorites]

A thoughtful Just as soon as I finish this Ask.Me answer. kidding. really.

Either, Hello or Just a minute. I was just in a national park, used the facilities, and spent a leisurely time accomplishing my objective. There was no line when I went in, I swear.
posted by theora55 at 8:37 AM on August 4, 2017

posted by humboldt32 at 8:38 AM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Occupied is appropriate.

For people who say "Yes?" what response do you expect? I've always been confused by this. Like, you know why I'm knocking on the door.
posted by punchtothehead at 8:44 AM on August 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

Barking out “occupied!”

Say, don't bark, "occupied."
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:50 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Occupied" is just fine. I think it maintains a nice amount of clinical distance between you and whoever is knocking.
posted by purple_bird at 8:52 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yep, "Occupied!" is the way to go. Sometimes in public bathroom where it's a one-room thingy, I call out, "Out in a minute!" even if I will not, in fact, be out in a minute. I don't see why that's an overshare -- it's a bathroom and we're all doing the same thing in there. Mostly.
posted by holborne at 8:57 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I say, "Busy!" I mean that the room is busy, meaning it's occupied, but now that I think about it, the person probably doesn't get my meaning.

The important thing is that they hear a voice and know the room is in use. Agree with stormyteal that the person probably feels dumb for trying a locked door because I always do.
posted by erloteiel at 9:02 AM on August 4, 2017

How do you signal to a politely knocking stranger that this bathroom is occupied?

Is this really common? If someone knocks on the door, I answer "Yes?" since I assume they are knocking for a reason.

Far more common, is that they simply attempt to open the door and find it locked. Perhaps I don't hang out with such polite people as the rest of you all.
posted by vacapinta at 9:02 AM on August 4, 2017

I don't think that people knocking on the bathroom door are listening for a precise combination of words so much as they're listening for noise in general. No matter what you say, they may be too embarrassed themselves that oh shit someone's in there and now i feel all oogy for bothering them to notice much.

I mean, shouting "Death to Smoochy" or something would probably elicit a different reaction, but whether you said "I'm in here" as opposed to "occupied", I don't think they'd care.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:06 AM on August 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

I usually go for "Occupied!" or "Occupado!". In Germany, try "Besetzt!". Doesn't really matter what you say, any word or sound to indicate you're there and heard the knock is basically okay.
posted by starfishprime at 9:22 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is the quintessential 'Plate of Beans' Metafilter question.

Saying 'Occupied' is 100% accurate, and is an entirely neutral statement of fact, and is also precisely the information that the person knocking is attempting to find out - they knock to see if anyone is in there or if it is free. Saying 'Occupied' in a neutral voice (or even an apologetic tone) is completely polite. Saying 'OCCUPIED, WHAT ARE YOU STUPID' is not. It's not the word that makes it 'barking' its the tone, and you have complete control of that.

You don't think the sliders on other bathroom doors are rude when they say 'Occupied', do you? It's the same thing exactly.
posted by Brockles at 9:23 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I say "Busy!" whether it's outside of home w/lockable door or at home w/nonlockable door. If they just start opening the door (home) without knocking, I bark "stop!"
posted by MovableBookLady at 9:27 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Occupied" in a neutral voice. "someone's in here" while pushing the door closed if I can't lock it and they try to enter.
posted by michaelh at 9:28 AM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

posted by soren_lorensen at 9:30 AM on August 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't feel I have to say anything. They should get it that the bathroom is busy because the door is locked. In the reverse position, I also don't expect an answer if I try a locked bathroom.
If they keep on knocking and rattling I say "just a minute please" or if I don't feel like saying even that, I turn on the water. They're not going to knock the door down.
posted by flourpot at 9:45 AM on August 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

I like to respond with a hearty "Besetzt!!", mostly because I just like the sound of it. While the person on the other side of the door may not speak German, he or she usually gets the meaning immediately.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 9:47 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I say the same thing as pazazygeek except I'm afraid I have no shame.
posted by ferret branca at 9:49 AM on August 4, 2017

There seems to be some confusion as to what information the knocker is looking for.

It's not stupid to knock on a locked door. Even if the door is locked, that doesn't mean that there's anybody in there. In many settings, the door can be accidentally locked when the previous user closes the door without manually unlocking it first. If no one answers from inside, the knocker will then know to find someone who is in charge of the key to let him/her into the bathroom.

I've often heard the expression "plate of beans" on this website, and now I think I know what it means.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:55 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I usually cough.
posted by delight at 10:01 AM on August 4, 2017

I usually chirp, "Housekeeping!" because I enjoy the absurd.

If you can't bear to say anything, you could always do an early flush, maybe a half-flush if you're worried about wasting water.
posted by jamaro at 10:03 AM on August 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

I too say "occupied!" I use a cheerful tone of voice, not a gruff bark. Occupied is a word that can come out in very different ways. My tone is like I'm announcing good news, which I realize it isn't exactly, but then it sounds like I'm glad that they knocked and glad to let them know I'm in there, as opposed to it carrying undertones of "go away!"
posted by slidell at 10:04 AM on August 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

" We'll be done in a couple of minutes !"
posted by lobstah at 10:10 AM on August 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

Start the handdryer, if there is one. Or loudly turn on the water, flush, cough or noisily rattle the TP dispenser.
posted by Crystal Fox at 10:12 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

My mom would shriek JUST A MINUTE in an extremely horrified and shrill voice which, while alarming, was incredibly successful in that no matter how long it took no one ever knocked again. I have taken this excellent strategy for my own.

although sometimes i will mash my face into the crook of my elbow and make an incredibly disgusting splattery fart noise, which has exactly the same effect
posted by poffin boffin at 10:21 AM on August 4, 2017 [15 favorites]

I say "just a minute please" and honestly I assume they can't really hear what I said through the door (and often the crowd noise). I made a noise and they heard me, and exactly what that noise was is kind of irrelevant.
posted by aimedwander at 10:24 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I remember this very situation stumping my small brain many years ago. I was about 8 years old, visiting at my Granny's house, and one of my cousins knocked on the bathroom door while I was on the toilet. All the play I'd ever done, playing house or playing office or whatever, the only thing you ever say when somebody knocks on a pretend door is "come in!" and I knew that wasn't what I wanted, but I couldn't think what else to say. So I said nothing. And my cousin opened the door. It was embarrassing and confusing, and I swore that if I ever had a kid I would teach them to say something like "Just a minute please!" when we were playing house.
posted by aimedwander at 10:30 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Gonna be a couple minutes!"

If you know who it is, "Fuck off, let me shit in peace!"
(my dogs know what this phrase means now)
posted by notsnot at 10:47 AM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I say "In use" or "Taken".

This does remind me of the time after hours at work when I thought the only person still there was a colleague and friend who was waiting for me to go get a drink. There was a knock on the door and I said, "Hold on, I am just wiping my ass." Imagine my embarrassment when I walked out a minute later and it was some woman I had never seen before. Keep it simple whatever you decide to say.
posted by AugustWest at 10:50 AM on August 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

"Somebody's in here!" I'm clearly a creep!
posted by zoetrope at 11:05 AM on August 4, 2017

I say "Yeah?" because who knows, maybe they have something to tell me. The response is usually "Sorry," or them silently moving on to the next door.
posted by ejs at 11:17 AM on August 4, 2017

I say "just a minute!" I think it's the kind of phrase that's used as etiquette shorthand, rather than a literal "hold on, still pooping" or however else it might be interpreted.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:18 AM on August 4, 2017

posted by fimbulvetr at 11:55 AM on August 4, 2017

I panic, usually try to say at least three of the above standard responses at once which results in an incoherent babble, and then at least 30% of the time start laughing nervously at how stupid I just sounded.
posted by buildmyworld at 11:55 AM on August 4, 2017

'Just a minute' is what I say.
What I'd like to figure out is what to respond with if I'm the knocker and not the knockee.
Occasionally (rarely) someone will respond with, "Who's there?"

Dear Askme, how can I make this into a knock-knock joke?
posted by BlueHorse at 12:00 PM on August 4, 2017

My default response is "Occupado!" and I have no idea where, when, or why I picked this up.

I do not speak Spanish, and apparently neither do the three other 'occupados' in this thread because Google tells me that in Spanish, it should be spelled 'ocupado' with one C. Does anyone have any idea where I/we may have gotten this from?
posted by yeahlikethat at 12:06 PM on August 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

Don't try to make noise, cough, rattle things, etc. Be an adult and say, "Occupied!" in a pleasant voice.
posted by kimberussell at 12:08 PM on August 4, 2017

The classic academic study of American restroom etiquette, Meanwhile Backstage: Public Bathrooms and the Interaction Order (1985), suggests that these exchanges typically take the form of mutual apology:
Individuals who open or attempt to open the door of an occupied toilet stall typically provide a remedy for this act, in most cases a brief apology such as 'Whoops' or 'Sorry.' By offering such a remedy, the offending individual implicitly defines the attempted intrusion as a delict and, thereby, affirms his or her belief in a rule that prohibits such intrusions. In this sense, toilet stalls provide occupying individuals not only physical protection against potential audiences but normative protection as well.

In order to receive this protection, however, occupying individuals must clearly inform others of their claim to such a stall. Although individuals sometimes lean down and look under the doors of toilet stalls for feet, they typically expect occupying individuals to mark their claim to a toilet stall by securely closing the door. On one occasion, for example, a middle-aged woman began to push open the unlocked door of a toilet stall. Upon discovering that the stall was occupied, she immediately said, 'I'm sorry,' and closed the door. When a young woman emerged from the stall a couple minutes later, the older woman apologized once again but pointed out that 'the door was open.' The young woman responded, 'it's okay,' thereby minimizing the offense and perhaps acknowledging a degree of culpability on her part.
However, the more up-to-date study by Molotch and Noren, Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing (2010), suggests that 'Occupied!' is the mot juste:
Someone pushes your door open because the latch doesn't work. The door hits your purse, which is hanging around your neck in front of your chest, and you and your purse topple backward against the tank of the toilet. "Occupied!" you scream, as you reach for the door, dropping your precious, tiny, crumpled tissue in a puddle on the floor, lose your footing altogether, and slide down directly onto the toilet seat. It is wet, of course.
posted by verstegan at 12:40 PM on August 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

I say "Yes!" Not as a question but as a way to say, "Yes, someone is here!" I dislike the dryer if you aren't drying your hands cause then I am like "WTF the dryer went off five minutes ago?!"
posted by dame at 1:18 PM on August 4, 2017

Another vote for "just a minute!"
posted by capricorn at 1:25 PM on August 4, 2017

Almost 60 answers and no suggestions of "Excuse me!"? Should I feel retroactively embarrassed for 30 years of being weird behind bathroom doors?
posted by deadcrow at 1:33 PM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mostly I just say occupied, but since starting a job with non-single bathrooms, I've started saying "Is that you, Jesus?" Which works real fast.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:34 PM on August 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

In answer to the question, I too, say "Occupied" in a friendly tone, and if the knocker is insistent (or rattles the doorknob like they're going to jiggle the lock open -the horror), I feel at liberty to sharply bark, "Just. A. Minute!" in a way that the rattler can feel my arched eyebrows and general irritation. Usually the former works fine, though.

In other news, this thread is the funniest thing I've read in a while and has placed me in a better mood for its earnest existence!
posted by but no cigar at 1:47 PM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

i usually crack the door a bit .., regardless of my progress on / w th'étoilette , give a wink and a finger over the lip (but not any "shhh" sound – silence is key) . . shut the door and return to The Unspeakable
posted by LeviQayin at 1:49 PM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I preemptively flush when I hear someone else entering the bathroom.
posted by Space Kitty at 2:00 PM on August 4, 2017

It's not stupid to knock on a locked door. Even if the door is locked, that doesn't mean that there's anybody in there.

Also, in the case of limited restrooms, I like to let the person know that there is in fact a queue. So knock off the Candy Crush, take care of business and move it along!

posted by amanda at 2:06 PM on August 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

The door is locked, if they rattle it once then they know. If they rattle it again they can fuck off. Feel free to make this clear by shouting 'I'm having a shit' or possibly 'For fucks' sake, I'm having a shit'.
posted by biffa at 2:57 PM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

God I love this question and the enthusiasm with which my fellow MeFites have responded. I mean, there are already two citations of sociological studies about public bathroom etiquette!

Myself, I usually panic and shout "Someone's in here!" or "Just a minute!" and then madly rush to finish my business, as though the person started a stopwatch upon my declaration. I asked mr hgg and he told me he announces, "I'm here!" which made me laugh uncontrollably for some reason.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:06 PM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I was in Kenya in the Peace Corps, we learned that when someone knocked on the door of the toilet, proper etiquette was to say nothing, but to knock back on your side of the door or the wall. I have stolen this technique and now use it in any public restroom where the layout makes it feasible and audible. There has never been a miscommunication, and it prevents that stupid awkward exchange of non-apologies (I am not sorry that I'm going to finish pooping before I let you into the bathroom, and I do not demand your apology for checking, as you were right to do so.) I suggest you all adopt this custom alongside me immediately, because it is better.

(Bonus: outside of Kenya, MeFites will be able to identify each other by their shared use of a superior bathroom occupancy code).
posted by pretentious illiterate at 4:20 PM on August 4, 2017 [19 favorites]

"Just a moment!" is what I say, surprised and panicked. Then I quietly die inside.

This was me and I still remember how delighted and relieved I was when I hit on using my best business phone voice to say, "One moment, please." My ultimate goal is to sound like the automated robot lady from my bank's customer service line.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:32 PM on August 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

I chose a couple of best answers as they are the two that are most useful to me - first, that I am entirely free to choose a tone that is friendly or cheerful, rather than embarrassed or apologetic. Also, being forearmed with a polite "One moment, please," is a solid replacement for the literal but otherwise very appropriate "occupied." I like "One moment, please" because it takes me and what I'm up to out of it, if that makes sense.

Thanks to all who shared thoughts!
posted by dreamphone at 6:58 PM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I always say "Occupado!" to signal that the toilet is occupied and to signal that I am not willing or able to answer follow-up questions from English speakers. I picked this up living in the Mission in San Francisco. I suppose if a Spanish-speaker wanted to continue an extended coversation through the toilet door I'd have to elaborate but I haven't been in that situation yet.
posted by bendy at 8:09 PM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Come in!" would also communicate "occupied!"
posted by bendy at 8:13 PM on August 4, 2017

yeahlikethat: Does anyone have any idea where I/we may have gotten this from?

My theory is up above at 8:09.
posted by bendy at 8:17 PM on August 4, 2017

"Come on in!"

I keed, I keed.

I, too, say "Occupied." I do so in as neutral a voice as I can muster. I'm often in places where I don't speak the local language, though, in which case I knock back, more loudly, and clear my throat a little.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:43 PM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I cheerfully shout, "I'm in here. . . and you can't rush a good thing!"

I like it because thinking about what a good thing means gives them something to do while they wait for me to leave!
posted by barchan at 12:06 AM on August 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have NO idea why, but I yell "Occupado!" I've never had a second knock, at least.
posted by tristeza at 8:28 AM on August 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

If they're knocking, and I'm confident the door is locked, I let the lock do the talking.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:43 AM on August 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I usually go with "one sec!" or "just a sec!"

I do think it's polite to say something, since I've also had the experience of waiting patiently in front of an unoccupied bathroom because I mistook a slightly sticky door for a locked one.

But really, almost anything short of "will you fuck off, I'm hungover and shitting my brains out" (which I barely restrained myself from using this morning on a particularly importunate knocker) is going to be polite enough.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:29 PM on August 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

(My issue with "one moment please" is that if I find myself needing two moments, I start to feel like I should hurry up to meet my self-imposed deadline.)
posted by slidell at 3:51 PM on August 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Your call of nature is important to us. Please stay in the line."
posted by Kabanos at 12:18 PM on August 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

The standard here in Japan is for the person in the stall to knock back on the door in response. Something about that solution feels weirdly elegant, to the point where I use it when I’m back in the US or wherever else
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:33 AM on August 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

"Just a minute" is the incantation I learned as a child.
posted by dws at 6:29 PM on August 19, 2017

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