March 23, 2018

the beg-pardon

One of the bits of American subculture that most fascinates me is how women behave in public restrooms.  Something as universal as waste elimination outside the privacy of one's own home is governed by a complex weave of rules and behaviors that only the vestiges of a Puritanical background merged with individualism could possibly generate.

Things that I've noticed in the first-floor bathroom in our building (seven stalls, four sinks):

1.  Sometimes the bathroom serves as a social gathering place.  Two people will exchange chit-chat while washing their hands, and one might ask the other a question about how some aspect of her life is going.  They end the conversation in an acceptable amount of time, drying their hands while talking, and leave.  Other times, three or more women will stand in front of the sinks, blocking them, and discuss some major, top-secret, highly-inappropriate topic in voices that they think are hushed but aren't.  A person can learn a lot.  These last ten minutes or more.  It's ridiculous, how they think the bathroom is a private place.  They'd do better using a broom closet.

2.  There are women who have no compunction whatsoever regarding talking on their Bluetooth earpiece and/or phone.  The person on the other end can hear everything that's going on.  This confuses me, because ....

3.  While peeing is completely acceptable, women will not defecate in a public restroom if they can be heard by even one other person.  The anonymity of being behind a door does not help in the least.  This results in outright warfare.

Case scenario:  One person who needs to poo enters the bathroom, and she is delighted to find she is alone and can do her business.  But just as she closes her stall door, a second person who needs to drop friends off at the pool walks in, and is dismayed to find someone is already there, but hopeful that the person will just pee and move on, thus giving them the needed solitude, if only they wait.  So both women sit in their stalls, on their respective queenly thrones, silent as midnight, and wait.  Not even breathing is heard.  Each waits for the other to pee or leave, hopes for the sound of toilet paper being pulled from the industrial-sized rolls, but she knows it's the trenches of war.  Silence.  Waiting.  Tension.  It's a stalemate, and one woman has to break or they will be there forever.  Usually, it's the second woman, as the first one has squatter's rights (pun intended).  Or the cavalry comes in, a squadron of women who take all of the other stalls and start flushing a lot, giving auditory cover to the two women in dire need.

It doesn't always go well.  You can walk in, check for feet under doors, find you're alone and happily set about your business, and then at the critical moment, a second woman will walk in, whereupon there is a sound that comes from your stall like unto someone climbing a high-dive ladder with a watermelon tucked under her arm and dropping it into the deep end of an Olympic pool.  Then you wrap your arms around yourself tightly and sit in shame until at least forty-five people have come and gone, to be sure no one knows you are you.

I love IKEA because every bit of this is moot.  Those hand dryers are really loud and one is always blowing, so the ambient noise covers a multitude of sins.

One co-worker is an exception.  She says she just goes ahead and does it proudly, because she's too old for all that and doesn't give a ... well, you know.  Whoa.  Meta.

4.  There is one stall in there that's everyone's favorite.  If two women enter simultaneously from opposite sides of the bathroom and begin heading for it, etiquette will be identical to how we handle an open parking space, except that in this case, all of the other parking spaces would be empty.  Everyone wants that parking space, and I am willing to bet it's because that stall gives the best view of whether there are feet in all of the other stalls, indicating the stealthy presence of a squatter.

5.  What allows a person to drop squares or strips of toilet paper on the floor and then leave them there as somebody else's problem?  Do they feel the floor is disgusting and even though it's their fault the thing fell to the floor in the first place, they're too good to deal with their own mess and then wash their hands, which they were about to do anyway (I do hope)?

6.  Every woman has had another woman point out to her at least once in the restroom that the back of her dress or skirt is tucked into her underwear.  There is no shame in this, just a thank-you courtesy.  We look out for each other.  We see tags sticking out of shirts and walk up and tuck them in, even if the other woman is a stranger.  Maybe this is what became of the primal tendency to pick fleas off of each other.

7.  It is supremely annoying to enter a stall, close the door, and realize there is no toilet paper only after you've pulled down all undergarments and settled in.

Elsewhere, I judge the quality of restaurant and other public bathrooms by two key criteria:  Whether there are paper towels available instead of a blow-dryer, and whether the soap is foaming and decent-smelling or whether it's that nasty-ass pink or green goo.  Nothing else matters to me.

I don't know how much of this has an analog within the culture inside a men's room in America.  There's a whole world there I will never know about and I suspect it's vastly different.  And feminism aside, I doubt their subculture is nearly so complicated and irrational as ours.

Update:  My son enlightened me on one aspect of men's bathroom culture, concerning urinals.  It seems that if there are three urinals, and the left one and right one are being used, the middle one is dead to all and guys will stand there and wait on one of the others, because you don't stand right next to another guy there.  There has to be a space.  And if you're a douche-bro, you take the middle one, in which case all three are considered taken.  This is interesting to me.  I always thought that it was okay as long as you looked straight ahead and didn't make small talk.  So it's not so simple in there.

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