Bathroom Etiquette

I have an hour and a half commute now, which leaves tons of time for podcast listening. And one of my new favorites is Judge John Hodgman, where minor television celebrity (he's a PC) John Hodgman settles disputes. Usually I think it's great, but I felt very strongly about a recent ruling.

The complaint: Knocking on the closed door of a single-occupant public restroom is a pointless and thoughtless activity because everything the knocker hopes to accomplish can be done by simply trying the door handle. The defense argues that the risk of a potential user having left the door unlocked merits the knock.

And the ruling: "A knock is maybe 5% less freaky-outy than someone desperately trying the door handle, trying to get in. Because you feel like you're at your most vulnerable when you're in there and you feel like someone is coming to kill you. So I feel like a knock is the ONLY polite thing to do, as people have known since the invention of doors."

Oh yeah, Judge Hodgman? That's the ONLY polite thing to do? I'd argue that the knock actually causes more stress and that simply trying the door is the best way to go.

Here's how it really goes: As a frequent occupant of single-person restrooms, I know that the knock is way more awkward than someone trying the handle. If I'm in there and someone knocks, I don't say anything. There is a huge amount of pressure associated with having to come up with something other than a description of what I'm doing that will make the other person go away. Trying to vocalize any thoughts at all in the milliseconds before the other person tries the door anyway is on the same difficulty level as getting the automatic soap dispenser to acknowledge my presence on the first try. Unless I say something very quickly, the other person is going to try the door and the knock will have accomplished nothing besides forcing me into a breakdown while scrambling for the perfect words to convince you that there is a person in here.

But if this is the judgment from Judge John Hodgman and we as a society have to accept that knocking is now the polite thing to do, I will go along with it. But I still find it really awkward that I have to say "I'm be right out!" just because someone else decided to be polite. The next time I'm in the bathroom and someone knocks, I will not scurry to yell out "Just a minute!" because I have a solution. From now on, whenever someone knocks on the door, I will knock over the trash can. It will create enough noise that although you might wonder if it's a human or a squirrel in there, you'll be dissuaded from trying to enter the restroom and it's not at all awkward for me. I urge everybody to do the same. Etiquette demands it.

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  1. Very eloquently stated position and Nathan and I agree 100%. I recently started the knock because it seemed to be the office-chosen etiquette, but I always feel weird about it. Nathan suggests shouting the following: “hold on, I just gotta shake it!” Although, that’s not really applicable to me.

  2. If someone knocks, the first thing that comes out of my mouth is usually “busy!” or “occupied!” — thank goodness for that, so far anyway, ’cause “peeing!” would be really awkward.

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