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Urinal etiquette in the smartphone age

Posted by Peter Post  July 10, 2012 07:00 AM

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Please pardon me for what I am about to bring up, but I’m actually serious. I’m in a men’s room doing my business when someone steps up to the urinal next to me, talking on his cell phone as he proceeds to do his business. A host of questions come to mind each time this happens, and each time I hesitate to respond, so clearly I am still vexed as to how to handle the situation.

First, there’s any noise he or I happen to be making. There can be a noticeable sound, anywhere from a garden sprinkler to running water. Should I attempt to quiet the “noise,” or let it rip?

Then comes the question of flushing. No doubt about it, flushing is audible. Even if the person on the other end of the phone hasn’t figured out what is going on, the flushing is a sure give away. So, as I finish, do I step away quietly and not flush or do I flush? I think: “Flush. “

Now the last time this situation arose, he finished before me. I was curious: Would he flush? It turns out he had a modicum of concern for the impact on the person he was speaking with. He kind of stepped back, about as far as his arm would let him, and then he yanked the handle, quickly stepped away and was gone. And, of course, that raised the issue of does he put the phone down to wash his hands, or does he, ugh, skip that sanitary step? I think to myself, “I hope I don’t have to shake his hand.”

And then there’s a third issue about phones and public places like public restrooms. Not that it’s happened to me, not that I really think it will. But smartphones have cameras and frankly, I don’t want to be the subject of surreptitious photos.

Now I am speaking only from the male experience here, although I have also heard women speak out on the subject. And the advice I have for everyone is: Put the phone away when you’re in a public restroom, please. If I’m on the other end of the call, I don’t want to hear you doing your business. And if I’m standing next to you, I simply want to get done and not be embarrassed or put into an embarrassing position.

How do you feel about people making calls next to you in a bathroom? Please voice your opinion by taking the poll at Thank you.

Peter Post's Essential Manners for Men was first published in 2003 and became a New York Times bestseller for advice books. Essential Manners for Men 2nd Edition is available now.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."

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