Public Bathroom Knocking Etiquette

public restroom etiquette

Does anyone out there do this when they encounter a closed public bathroom door?

  • Knock very timidly to see if someone is in there.
  • Listen — but the fan inside the bathroom makes it difficult to tell if anyone has protested.
  • Timidly try the doorknob.
  • It sticks, so you wait. And wait. And wait so long, you begin to wonder if you’re mistaken, and maybe no one is in there.
  • So you knock then try the door again.

I’ve had this turn out a few different ways for me. Sometimes someone is in there, and the door is locked, and then they’re really annoyed with me for trying twice. Sometimes someone is in there, and the door wasn’t fully locked, and they are really, really annoyed with me. Sometimes I’ve been standing outside that whole long time, and it turns out the catch in the lock is sticky but not locked, and there wasn’t a soul inside the whole time.

It’s a lot of potential different outcomes — and potentially embarassing ones at that. So when a friend recommended a smart approach to this situation, I took it up wholeheartedly. He suggests this:

  • Rap firmly on the door. Don’t sound angry, but those bathroom fans can drown out timid knocks. The goal is to be make sure you’re heard by anyone inside and give them a chance to protest.
  • If you hear nothing, give the door knob a strong turn. It needs to be strong, so you aren’t fooled by any sticky mechanics and think it’s locked when it’s not.
  • Open the door slowly. You don’t want to open the door wide open if someone is in there after all. Give them another chance to say something.

This post sprung to mind because of an incident at my gym where I was in a stall with a faulty lock — it’s one of those locks that appears to be locked but only needs a firm push from the outside and it opens. Someone pushed the door wide on me. Yes, it was horrifying. And then I witnessed it happen to someone else at a later date, when I woman pushed open that same stall door without knocking and then said to the woman inside: “Sorry but it wasn’t locked!” like it was the other woman’s fault.

I was so annoyed on behalf of the lady in the stall because I knew the issue was the lock, not her. Also, it’s super uncool to open a closed bathroom door without knocking or checking for feet in a stall and then blame the person inside. Pushing open a bathroom door should never be your first step in an is-there-anyone-in-there situation.

If you take only one thing from this post, please take that.

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