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The Business of Number 2

Using bathrooms for their intended purposes, plus invitation websites and flags at night.

Miss Conduct
(Illustration / Nathalie Dion)
 Never the Groom (8/12/07)

My co-workers are a fastidious bunch easily offended by odor and have made it clear that one should not stink up the bathroom on our floor. But every once in a while, I need to use the restroom for more than urinating or primping. Since we can’t open the windows and there is no fan, I have felt the need to search out another facility. While I have found a more private bathroom on another floor, it is often occupied, and I rarely have reason to go to that floor. I worry that it is obvious why I’m there. It seems unhealthy to hold it until I get home, so I can’t decide which is more rude: using the bathroom on my floor, where people will comment on odor; using the bathroom on another floor, with its innocent bystanders; or the fact that my officemates imply that bathrooms should not be used for their intended purpose?
Anonymous in Boston

Here’s what I would tell your co-workers: If you want a better-functioning, sweeter-smelling, lower-maintenance human body, take it up with God. To me, it sounds as if your officemates have gone beyond rude and into bat-style crazy. One occasionally has no choice but to stink up a bathroom; such is the nature of human biology. If one shares a bathroom, one does the stinking as discreetly as possible and uses air freshener afterward. And then everyone joins together in pretending that nothing happened.

It’s silly to compromise your health by not addressing your physical needs, and it also seems absurd to go skulking about on other floors to address them. (If you do occasionally choose this option, for heaven’s sake, don’t be so shame-filled about it. Your co-workers have really gotten to you with their intolerance of the human body, haven’t they? So what if it’s obvious why you’re there? People do often go to the bathroom in order to go to the bathroom; it’s not just you.) Get an effective but not overpowering air freshener, leave it in the loo, and ignore comments.

Recently, I’ve received several party invitations via an invitation website. I can appreciate the appeal of using such a site to help organize an event, but I’m not comfortable with the company having my e-mail address and other personal information. In consideration of me and other like-minded guests, I think party organizers shouldn’t use this type of service. What do you think?
R.M. in Newton

See, R.M., you sit there in Newton thinking that’s a simple question: to e-vite or not to e-vite? But I’m telling you I could spend the next year researching Internet security, privacy norms in late-capitalist societies, identity-theft prevention methods, and the history of invitation technology from the cave drawings ("Mastodon BBQ at Og’s tonight") to BlackBerries. Really. These are bigger questions than you realize.

Or I could just tell you what I did the last time I organized a major event. A couple of weeks before I did the invitations, I sent a save-the-date e-mail. (And I did this the correct way, putting my e-mail address in the "To" line and all the invitees in the "BCC," to preserve everyone’s privacy.) In this e-mail, I noted that I was planning to use an invitation website and anyone who did not want to be invited this way should let me know. None of the group attending this event – which included some folks who know a fair bit about computer security – objected to being included on the e-vite list. But if they had, I’d have known and could have left them off. This seems to be a useful compromise, allowing the host the convenience of invitation websites but allowing guests to opt out.

Our house is on a dark section of our street, so we keep our porch light on all night, illuminating our American flag, only taking it in during inclement weather. We think it’s OK to keep the flag up after dark if it is illuminated. Is this correct?
B.D. in Natick

You are right. According to the US Flag Code, "It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness." This does seem ever so slightly redundant to me; why would one display a flag if not for its patriotic effect? Flags are not particularly noted for other qualities, such as keeping things springtime fresh or repelling household pests.

So you are in the clear, and good for you for bothering to ask. Everyone has certain issues about which they cannot refrain from ranting, and flag etiquette is one of mine. It shows greater respect to the flag to burn it as a political protest than it does to let it dangle, dirty and limp with all the dignity of a gym sock, from your car antenna. If you want to show patriotism, fly the flag correctly or not at all.

My Word
Got a new roommate? Do yourself a favor and set some house rules at the beginning, even if you think you’ll be great friends. It’s easier to start off businesslike and eventually become buddies and toss the rules than it is to assume that everything will work out of its own accord and then have to have "the talk" halfway through the semester (or lease).

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology.

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