Ask Laskas: Your Turn to Give Advice on Cell Phone Etiquette

Jeanne Marie Laskas writes our magazine's monthly advice column; now you help counsel this woman for possible inclusion in an upcoming issue.


A woman took her cell phone into a public restroom, and I listened to her conversation from the next stall. Apparently this did not bother the woman or the person on the other end of the phone. But it bothered me. Should I have said something?  — Seeking Privacy

 

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60 thoughts on “Ask Laskas: Your Turn to Give Advice on Cell Phone Etiquette

  1. Would it bother you if she was talking to someone who was also in the bathroom? If it is the volume of the conversation that really bothers you then you can poltely ask her to drop the volume a tad, or plug your ears. However, a public restroom is “public” and as long as it doesn’t bother her you shouldn’t let it bother you.

  2. It’s a public restroom- she knew she wasn’t alone. If it bothers you, tune her conversation out, but it was her decision.

  3. Key words are “public restroom.” and the self-labeled “Seeking Privacy”.  Use a private restroom, and if one is not available, just ignore those who bother you. Get over it!

  4. Pretend you are on the other end of her phone call and carry on the conversation with her. This may get her thinking twice about her phone calls on the john, and if nothing else it will give you something to laugh about.

  5. One of my co-workers does this DAILY! It drives me bonkers, so what I do is hold down the manual flush button on the toilet. This prevents me from hearing her and the person on the other line from hearing me take care of personal bathroom business. She has stopped using the phone in the stalls…at least when I am in there!

  6. Remember when phone booths had doors that closed.  They offered some
    form of separation from the public.  In the ’70’s they became roofless
    and doorless, but still had side panels that prevented one’s talking
    from being overheard.  Back then it was considered rude to eavesdrop. 
    These days phone booths are museum relics and the age of broadcast-
    conversation is upon us.  Quite a paradox for a society that staunchly
    demands the right to privacy while at the same time divulging personal
    information and secrets on the internet and openly airing intimate cell
    phone conversations.  In fact, society has done a complete 180 on the
    decorum of phone calls.  Ever been with a group of people and someone’s
    cell phone rings?  What happens?  Everyone immediately stops talking
    (even in mid-sentence) while the called person answers and carries on a
    private conversation without so much as saying excuse me or turning
    aside or making any attempt to detach himself from the group’s
    proceedings.  And amazingly enough, the group indulges him and
    maintains silence throughout!  Suddenly we have a society in which the
    cell phone is king, attending to it is religion, and normal, in-person,
    human interaction is unimportant and disdainful.  Well I say bunk! 
    Your cell phone is your master, not mine.  Your calls are for you to
    hear, not me.  The onus is on you to practice proper phone ettiquette,
    not me.  I am under no obligation to keep quiet while you jabberjaw in
    the free, open space.  If you think you can eschew the practices of a
    genteel, polite society and only tend to your own narcisistic world of
    self-importance where you think everyone should be privy to everything
    you say, then you should go live on a deserted island where you can
    talk as loudly and as garruously as you want.  Then, maybe one day, in
    your aloneness, without a hand to touch, or an embrace to feel, or
    another’s heartbeat to listen to, or someone’s eyes to look into, or a
    natural voice to hear, or the silent rendering of love to sense, you’ll
    come to realize that a cell phone is nothing but a parlor trick.

  7. No, I wouldn’t say anything to the person, but I would have flushed the toilet several times while she was on the phone!  It happens at my work, and I think it’s rude and annoying!

  8. No, you should say nothing.  When you go into public places, you will be exposed to annoyances by inconsiderate people. If you let them bother you, you are darkening your day. If you speak up, you ae wasting your time and energy.  The only way to avoid such incidents is to stay home. Don’t do that…grow by coping.

  9. There was no need to say anything.  The woman you mention may have been oblivious to your presence.  Unfortunately, many Americans are losing their sense of privacy.  From the moment we leave our homes, we are videoed, photographed, and voice-recorded in every public venue imaginable.  As a result, there is now a whole generation who take this for granted and don’t consider the need to practice discretion in almost any given situation.  All you can do, for now, is be content that you’re not one of them!

  10. There was no need to say anything.  The woman you mention may have been oblivious to your presence.  Unfortunately, many Americans are losing their sense of privacy.  From the moment we leave our homes, we are videoed, photographed, and voice-recorded in every public venue imaginable.  As a result, there is now a whole generation who take this for granted and don’t consider the need to practice discretion in almost any given situation.  All you can do, for now, is be content that you’re not one of them!

  11. There was no need to say anything.  The woman you mention may have been oblivious to your presence.  Unfortunately, many Americans are losing their sense of privacy.  From the moment we leave our homes, we are videoed, photographed, and voice-recorded in every public venue imaginable.  As a result, there is now a whole generation who take this for granted and don’t consider the need to practice discretion in almost any given situation.  All you can do, for now, is be content that you’re not one of them!

  12. If the woman and her caller are not concerned about sharing their personal information in any public arena then just let it in one ear and out the other.  The only time you should interject is if you hear a person is in danger, this is when you do need to speak up.

  13. If the woman and her caller are not concerned about sharing their personal information in any public arena then just let it in one ear and out the other.  The only time you should interject is if you hear a person is in danger, this is when you do need to speak up.

  14. I do not like to listen in on other people’s business but apparently it does not bother the folks who use their phones in the bathroom. If this is a work area, then you know that cell phones have to be turned off and a bathroom break is the only time a person can give a call back on something that can be very important. Also, I think that most people do not think a one-way conversation that you would hear can be that annoying or give out personal details. Anyway, I would not say anything because the caller might answer back “why were you listing to my call in the first place!

  15. If the women talking on the phone were using profane language, then I would have been offended and possibly said something. Otherwise though, I’m not going to a public bathroom for peace and quiet!  I going in there, getting my business down and leaving!  So, what’s the problem? 

  16. No. Would you say something to two people talking at the sink outside the stall? Why do you care? Just do your biz and move on. It’s really none of your business.

  17. This used to annoy me too, when cell phones were becoming all the rage.  But now it doesn’t bother me at all, in fact I have come to realize with the hustle and bustle of busy places, like where public restrooms obviously are, noisy kids, family talking, etc., sometimes the only place to get a few private moments to make a phone call IS in the restroom stall. Don’t say anything, just do your business, flush and be done with it.  There are much more annoying things people do in public than this!

  18. What I would do is respond to everything she says.  That would sure freak her out, and maybe help her get over her nasty, unsanitary habits. 

  19. Just grin and bear it. But if you really want to make a point next time this happens reply to something they said in their conversation. 

  20. Scenario One:  You are in line at the grocery store and there are two women in line behind you having a conversation.  Are you annoyed?
    Scenario Two:  You are at home in your restroom on your “throne”.  Through the door you hear your daughter/husband/son on the phone having a conversation with someone.  Are you annoyed?
    You should not have been annoyed, but humored.  I have a rule of thumb.  If I receive or need to make a phone call while sitting down at a meal, I either go outside, or limit my call to one minute out of respect to those around me.  But to be annoyed when someone else is having a conversation whether on a cell phone, in person, etc. is unreasonable.  Perhaps you could have asked her to put the phone on SPEAKER so you could be privy to the entire conversation (tongue in cheek).

  21. I understand that the writer feels annoyed at the behavior of the restroom cell caller, but I don’t understand why. Was it because she couldn’t eavesdrop on both halves of the conversation? Whether it was rude to cell-chat in the restroom, it was just as rude to listen in. Oh, I know it’s hard not to listen when they’re loud right next to you, but the well-bred lady (or gentleman) cultivates the ability to ignore the missteps of others. The essence of etiquette is in conducting oneself in such a way as to put others at ease–not in being judge, jury, and executioner of others’ behavior. This rules out confronting the restroom cell-chattress, as well as other colorful exercises like grunting or flushing excessively.

  22. I would make some noise (cough or clear my throat) to make she knew there was someone else in the restroom. If she keeps chatting … try singing out loud – the acoustics of most restrooms should make it difficult for her to continue. I’d recommend a Kate Smith version of “God Bless America”.

  23. Just start coughing and gagging loudly.  There’s a reason calls are not taken in the restroom.

  24. Never say anything to a person on the phone, whether visible or not, however, Who is to say that you cannot pull a piece of paper from your purse or pocket and have a phone conversation written down that you can start reading aloud.  This should then send a message to the person in the next stall. If they want privacy, then they need to go somewhere else and can you imagine if three or more stalls started talking on the phone, the acoustics are so great that everyone will probably want to hang up….

  25. Conversations happen in the bathroom all the time! It just happens that you only get to hear one side of it. Would it have bothered you so much if the other person was also present in the restroom? You should do what you need to and move on. Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill!

  26. The word public sums this up…the caller may be rude and insensitive to others around her, however it isn’t against the law. And a stranger pointing it out would most likely anger her…then yoyou would have to hear about THAT on her next call.

  27. No. She’s talking to someone on her phone in what is a semi-private public place that has a quick ” turn around”, time-wise. Why is this such an inconvenience to you? It isn’t a library or a quiet restaurant. Do your business and leave. If she were talking to her friend in the next stall would it still annoy you? Grow a thicker skin, the world is full of bothersome things.

  28. Would you say something to a couple sitting at the table next to you in a restaurant if you were to overhear THEIR conversation? I think not! As annoying as it may be – she is NOT talking to you. Do your “business” and move on!

  29. You are in the bathroom for a reason and so was she…stay in your own lane (or stall, in this case). Would you rather the same conversation happening at the table next to you in the dining room?

  30. While I think it’s odd to talk on the phone in the bathroom, I don’t think “seeking privacy” should say anything.  What if two friends were talking in a public bathroom in separate stalls or  at the sink.  Would she feel obligated to say something then?  It’s not her business.   A public bathroom is a public place and doesn’t offer the privacy of being at home.

  31. While I think it’s odd to talk on the phone in the bathroom, I don’t think “seeking privacy” should say anything.  What if two friends were talking in a public bathroom in separate stalls or  at the sink.  Would she feel obligated to say something then?  It’s not her business.   A public bathroom is a public place and doesn’t offer the privacy of being at home.

  32. A bathroom stall gives a person a sense of privacy that few other public venues do.  But it was not designed to be sound-proof.  So, if you wouldn’t want your stall-mate complaining about the loudness of your bodily functions, why worry about her cell-phone conversation?

  33. My answer to those people who think the restroom is a place for phone calls is sing, Out loud like you mean it, anything, Christmas songs, rock songs anything you care to. The echo is great and the person on the other end will realize that everyone is in a restroom. If something is said while washing your hands, my answer is “If you can talk in here, I can sing”. 

  34. Say loudly from your stall;  “Excuse me, my stall is out of toilet paper.  Can you pass me some?”

    Those who don’t want the person on the other end of the phone to know they’re calling from a toilet stall will be mortified. 

    Sometimes negative consequences do influence a person’s future behaviors.

  35. For Heaven’s sake NO! She got as private as she could. Do what you went in the stall to do and LEAVE.

  36. Haha! What I do when that happens is join the conversation and just act like she MUST be talking to me.  After a few exchanges (usually them commenting to the person they’re talking to about what I’m doing), they usually disconnect.

  37. People do this for the express purpose of having other people hear their conversations! It’s about shock value, you could have said something but then you would just be feeding their need for attention.

  38. Privacy stalls are meant to be private.  Unless you knew one or both of these women and wish to remind them that others might share their conversation, you need to erase it from your mind.  I am suppressing my desire to say “get a life”.

  39. Comments for the best advice for Seeking Privacy have already been said, and some were very entertaining.  The only thing that I can think of to add is to pretend that a man walked into the bathroom and yell.  Or pretend that you saw a mouse, heard gunshots or a fire alarm if the conversation next door doesn’t sound serious. If your’e really brazen you could start telling a joke about two women in adjoining stalls in a restroom.  Or you could be polite and not say anything at all.  Seeking Privacy could also have earplugs handy if she doesn’t want to be entertained again.   

  40. Comments for the best advice for Seeking Privacy have already been said, and some were very entertaining.  The only thing that I can think of to add is to pretend that a man walked into the bathroom and yell.  Or pretend that you saw a mouse, heard gunshots or a fire alarm if the conversation next door doesn’t sound serious. If your’e really brazen you could start telling a joke about two women in adjoining stalls in a restroom.  Or you could be polite and not say anything at all.  Seeking Privacy could also have earplugs handy if she doesn’t want to be entertained again.   

  41. Comments for the best advice for Seeking Privacy have already been said, and some were very entertaining.  The only thing that I can think of to add is to pretend that a man walked into the bathroom and yell.  Or pretend that you saw a mouse, heard gunshots or a fire alarm if the conversation next door doesn’t sound serious. If your’e really brazen you could start telling a joke about two women in adjoining stalls in a restroom.  Or you could be polite and not say anything at all.  Seeking Privacy could also have earplugs handy if she doesn’t want to be entertained again.   

  42. Comments for the best advice for Seeking Privacy have already been said, and some were very entertaining.  The only thing that I can think of to add is to pretend that a man walked into the bathroom and yell.  Or pretend that you saw a mouse, heard gunshots or a fire alarm if the conversation next door doesn’t sound serious. If your’e really brazen you could start telling a joke about two women in adjoining stalls in a restroom.  Or you could be polite and not say anything at all.  Seeking Privacy could also have earplugs handy if she doesn’t want to be entertained again.   

  43. Unless she is planning a bank robbery what’s the poblem. I need something to read on the throne (rd is always near) but with nothing to do at least you can listen to pass the time. Privacy is obviously not a problem for the caller or callee.

  44. I suggest that those who use their cell phones in public areas be required to turn on the speakerphone. It’s so annoying to hear only one side (usually very loud) of a conversation. If they say, “This is a private conversation,” I would reply, “I wish.”

  45. If someone was in the restroom stall next to me, talking on her cell phone, I would have no problem listening since I should only be there for a minute or two.  Who cares?  It may even be entertaining.  As far as the person on the other end of the line hearing her bodily functions, well that it their problem, not yours.  It is much better than texting while driving.

    Peasoup9

  46. Flush the toilet…it will let her know someone is present.,,,,and spare yu the awkwardness of  having to say something….I mean….what DO you say?  Hearing a flush will make it her call if she wants a private conversation….if it doesn’t bother her…..don’t let it bother YOU.

  47. I can’t think of what to say but I’d have to convey that I am annoyed, same as I am with public cell phone conversations anywhere.  It’s an intrusion on the rest of the people, except if it’s your deployed son/daughter.   Otherwise I might run the dryer repeatedly, flush more than once and if she emerges comment that she must feel really important or she is such a devoted wife/mother/whatever if people can’t manage without her even for a few minutes…

    1. I don’t understand your reply. It’s either an intrusion to others or it isn’t. Who cares who is on the other end? Should the talker say to all who enter the restroom, “this is is my daughter, do you mind if I speak to her?” What would be rude is the comment you said you might make. You don’t know their life.

  48. I can’t say that I would ever take a call while answering natures. Loud graons accompanied by equally loud gass passing with a flush or 2 should end most restroom cell conversations.

  49. if someone is having a conversation in the stall next to you, flush the toilet constantly, hopefully he/she will get the message and hang up

  50. Would it be rude if she was in there talking to a friend who was also there?  Not really.  Talking on the phone is rude when you should be interacting with the people in front of you–your firends, the waiter, whoever–or when you should be quiet–the library or movies.  If it would be appropriate to be talking to a physical person then it is fine.

  51. Peope who do this obviously don’t care if conversations are overheard. It bothers me if I am the one calling and the other person answers while they are in the bathroom. I ask them to call me back.  I was in the bathroom at work when someone came in talking on their phone sharing gossip that was very obvious that it was not an emergency call. So I made sure to flush several times, and made a lot of noise washing my hands, so the person on the other end knew that they were in the bathroom. I was hoping to embarrass the person on my end, so that they wouldn’t be repeating gossip.  But it didn’t matter, this person has been in the bathroom several other times on the cell phone since then.

  52. Think about it, if you are at the table in a restaurant and your phone rings and you ought to answer the call you have two choices. One, you stay at the table and answer, which that I believe is rude on its own or you two, go to the bathroom and answer it. Bathrooms are meant to be used for in and out situations. I don’t think other people should be bothered if people use their phones while being in there. Being there for top 10 minutes while listening to a phone conversation should not be that bad. Do your business and get out.  

    1. I usually step out to the lobby or go outside if it may be more a 2-minute call. It’s dumb to put your laundry on the street, you never know who is listening.

    2.  And then there is go outside where you will likely have more space to yourself than you would in the bathroom.  It’s what I do and it has worked well.

  53. This one is out of your control.  You can pretend she is talking to you and respond (I did this once) and carry on.  Apparently she doesn’t mind you eavesdropping so neither should you. People who do this kind of activity (loudly) does not have a care in the world so don’t worry about being sensitive to their behavior.  

  54. No.  It’s one of those situations where people may disturb those around them but speaking up would do nothing but cause frustration and embarrassment.  Also, there can be something going on in this woman’s life where the bathroom phone conversation could not be avoided.  I would never talk on the phone in the bathroom stall myself but when my son was deployed to Iraq, those calls could come anytime day or night.  I took my phone EVERYWHERE and even answered it in the bathroom at work.  If I had left the phone at my desk, I may not have gotten to hear from him again for weeks.  Think about the other person in this situation.  It could have been an emergency, it could have been a boss who would get bent out of shape if she was unavailable, it could have been someone who just wouldn’t take the hint when she realllyyy had to go bad, or it could have even been she was just downright rude.  No, it was best for you to leave this one alone and leave the social lessons to her momma.

  55. No. I get that it’s annoying but what are the chances of you ever seeing this woman again, talking on her phone, in a bathroom.  Talking to her would not have changed the fact she talked on the phone while in the bathroom in the first place and it probably wouldnt’ve stopped her from doing it again.  It is just one of those things you roll your eyes at and forget about within 5 minutes.

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