Taboo but True: Rules of the Loo

I’ve started and stopped this article the way a 13 year-old boy, or anyone for that matter, dials (or texts?) a number in hopes of a first date. This is a difficult conversation that can no longer sit on the sidelines. I know you’re waiting for me to make the first move, but let’s break the ice with easier topics first:

  • Remember when you were seven and your hamster suddenly stopped getting nowhere fast on his wheel? Your parents lied when they told you he went to a rodent resort and spa.
  • On December 25, if a red-suited, overly-gregarious man enters your house via chimney, he is a drunk burglar. Give him the mace, not milk and cookies. It’s not a question of naughty or nice.
  • Only our moms truly believe we’re special. Everyone else finds us average-to-moderately unannoying.

Now, onto the subject at hand.  It’s as uncomfortable for me as it is for you, so let’s never have to revisit this topic. Wipe palms on jeans. Deep breath. And…

The office bathroom is not a phone booth, dentist office, speakeasy, or makeup counter at the mall. It’s probably the one place where we’re truly focused on getting down to business. Please burn the following to office etiquette memory:

Personal Calls in the Stalls

A couple weeks ago we discussed tricks and tips for keeping personal and family fodder from becoming cube farm fertilizer. I didn’t think I’d have to say this, but based on feedback it looks like some of us need a reminder to take your “friends and family plan” out of the potty. Kudos for giving a new meaning to multi-tasking but no one wants to hear how annoyed you are with your mother-in-law at mid wipe. You are going to drop your cell phone in the toilet. If you’re using a hands-free device I’m unsure if that makes you more bothersome, efficient or both.

A Courtesy Flush Shows You Care

Shun what you see in air freshener commercials. There’s not enough aerosol on the earth or in the ozone to make anyone believe they’ve walked into a “rain forest breeze” or “apple cinnamon orchard.” (A side note: those automated scent sprayers in some public bathrooms— well, they tend to startle the crap out of me). We applaud your healthy colon and we already know it’s you in there because we can see your shoes. A courtesy flush goes a long way in making the world and work a better place.

Don’t Dilly Dally

This is not a joke: part of the reason I went to work for myself wasn’t so I could be my own boss. It was so I could sit on my own throne. I like my oatmeal, Clif Bars and caffeine in the morning. Digest these together and you’ve got the ingredients for a perfect storm. Everyday at the office laid me at the feet of fate when nature came knocking.

“Dear all that is holy, please let me have the ladies room to myself.”

When you gotta go, you gotta go. Did you ever experience sweet relief only to have it hijacked seconds later by someone who decides to come in, brush their teeth, floss, gargle, re-apply eye shadow, clip their fingernails, write a novel, and do long division? You’ve given them the “clue in” courtesy flush (a form of courtesy flush to reassert your presence and need for privacy). Can they not hear your thighs burning from the squat and squeeze (hovering over the toilet while straining to halt proceedings)? God forbid the automatic scented sprayer goes off and you lose your concentration.

I used to work at a dot com where every morning around ten one of my co-workers would roll The Washington Post under her arm and make a bee-line for the bathroom. At first I found it disconcerting. I didn’t need to know what her immediate future entailed. Now I understand her genius. Just as the middle finger thrust up and into your face means “I feel displeasure towards you,” my co-worker’s display of interest in current events while picking up the pace to the potty said to our department, “Leave me in peace. I prefer to take this brief biological journey alone.”

The Soap is There For a Reason

I used to have a co-worker who obsessively monitored perpetrators of the flush and fly (failure or refusal to make an effort at hygiene). The offenders instantly became the Hester Prynne’s of the marketing department. The only thing spreading faster than the news about the non-handwashers were their germs. It made working lunches distracting. Instead of brainstorming we were watching to see what they touched on the cold cut spread from the deli downstairs.

So, wash your hands because your nosy cube neighbor is listening. And also because your co-workers have better things to do on their sick days besides be sick.

Here’s an easy way to remember this advice:

Upon finding yourself near ceramic thrones
It will serve you well to get off the phone
If the room goes quiet from a gagging hush
Be kind enough to courtesy flush
If you sense someone’s straining, keep your business brief
Leave the lavatory and allow them relief
Flushing and flying is not only gross
It’ll turn your career and reputation to toast

Let’s never speak of this again. Next week we’ll return to our regularly scheduled “Life Down on the Cube Farm.”

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 Post Tags It ain't pretty, but they are! *** I shot out of my mother's womb ready to write The Great American novel and then its screenplay adaptation. Beyond that, I'm all about seeing the world from the saltwater, one session at a time. I also like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens... and not because they taste like chicken.


  1. Luce on the 23rd October

    What a shame we can’t postpone those nature calls….!!
    Don’t you feel so vulnerable when you really got to go at work?

    Anyway, let’s not say more ; )

  2. Phil Stringfellow on the 24th October

    “(A side note: those automated scent sprayers in some public bathrooms— well, they tend to startle the crap out of me)”

    Me too, and they always go off when I walk in, as if it’s just me they’re spraying!

    Anyway, a humourous and gentle take on an uncomfortable subject for many. Nice one!

  3. Murray on the 24th October

    My boss is hilarious, he’ll come in the office in the morning and will start the day with…

    “So I had this amazing idea while I was taking a crap yesterday”

    Toooo much information.

    The funny thing is that the ideas are actually really great haha.

  4. Sam on the 24th October

    As far as I’m concerned girls don’t poop. End of story.

  5. Jon on the 24th October

    Great post – very entertaining to read and some very good points. We have just one bathroom here at our small company (per sex), which has its own advantages and disadvantages.

    The not-washing-your-hands thing really grosses me out though. You’d think by now guys would realize that no matter what, you come out of that bathroom with your hands washed!

  6. ali on the 24th October

    very good and funny but is it true ?

    • Christine Martino on the 24th October

      Absolutely true. My current place of employment has failed all of these points, more often than not.

  7. Avery on the 24th October

    Heh, our guy from purchasing once sat in the stall next to mine and wanted to have a conversation with me about my day. I’ll never forget his funny accent as he started with “Who’s my neighbor?” (he sounds Australian). I have no issues with talking at the sink but I think it’s an understood law that you don’t converse with anyone in the stalls.

    What’s with the dilly dallying part though? Is that more of a lady’s room thing? It reminds me of the boy in gym class who would wait until everyone else was gone so he could change in the locker room. If it’s a problem then perhaps skipping the courtesy flush would remove any unwanted guests?

    • Troy Peterson on the 27th October

      Yeah, I think that’s a ladies room thing.

      The ONLY acceptable conversation allowed in the bathroom is while you’re washing your hands… Along with the “every second stall” rule.

      Any conversation is strictly prohibited.

      If I remember right, the courtesy flush is optional.

  8. Taylor Satula on the 24th October

    Amen sister

  9. Alison Rowan on the 24th October

    I am in love with this article. It made me laugh many, many times, and it’s all so true. Thanks for tackling the topic no one else would! XD

  10. Christine Martino on the 24th October

    My brother added another:

    Guys, if you’re in a bathroom with plenty of open urinals, DO NOT choose the urinal RIGHT NEXT to another guy. Also known as the “Every Other Urinal” Rule.

    I thought that one was funny.

  11. Michelle Burleson on the 24th October

    @Sam, girls may not poop, but women do.

  12. Trudy on the 24th October

    LOL! Squat and squeeze. I can so relate. I am a hoover-er public restrooms will never enjoy the warmth of these buns! Ok and I’m done TMI.

  13. Ellen Donovan on the 25th October

    Thank you for writing out loud what I have been privately thinking for years. It covered all the salient points for those of who prefer sitting to standing.

    Therefore, my question is this: Are the rules of etiquette suggested in this very timely and well written article also applicable in the Men’s Room? I have heard through rumor, second-hand anecdotes and innuendo that the place has a ‘no holds barred’ kinda mystique.

    I am not necessarily interested in the granular details, but rather an assessment from the 3,000-foot vantage point.

  14. Tech Babu on the 26th October

    Full of laughing article, in the current life these kinds of articles are much important.

  15. Michelle Burleson on the 27th October

    @Ellen, hahahaha. I have heard the “every other urinal” rule and if there are three, don’t take the middle. I don’t envy that whole dynamic.

  16. Jen Erris on the 27th October

    Sam knows what he’s talkin bout! Girls don’t pooh! Can I get an AMEN!?

  17. Kim H on the 25th November

    Can I just say amen? I think this needs to be posted everywhere that there happens to be a public restroom.

    And for god’s sake – don’t smoke in the bathroom! There are plenty of other areas to do that.

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