Digital Manners: Is It OK To Talk on the Phone While Using the Bathroom? (Transcript)

Navigating the intersection of etiquette and technology.
Nov. 29 2011 12:54 PM

Call Me Back When You’re Out of the Bathroom (Transcript)

 Is it rude to conduct your business while “conducting your business”?

(Continued from Page 1)

Farhad:  It doesn’t come up often, but it comes up sometimes. I work at home alone. No one is seeing me. If I need to use the bathroom while I’m on the phone, I think that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with it. But I couldn’t tell if this guy’s wife was talking to him while in the bathroom or if he’s noticing her talk to other people. Either way, I think it’s bad. You should do it when nobody knows.

Emily:  Well, that’s a good question. Yes, the letter is ambiguous. I guess I had read it that she does it to him and when he said she does it all the time, I kind of wondered if she was holding it until she had to communicate with him. Then she ran to the bathroom just so she could give him some toilet sounds, which may be a commentary on their marriage.

I’ve been in public bathrooms and I’m in the stall and suddenly the person next to me seems to be talking to me. “How are you?”


“I’m fine, thanks. How are you?”

Then you realize the person is talking to someone else and it seems crazy because the person on the other end, even if you’re trying to be quiet, there’s going to be a lot of flushing and hand-washing all around you.

Farhad:  Emily, I can’t believe you’ve never done this.

Emily:  I’m reading “War and Peace.” No. I don’t even talk to people. When I’m in the bathroom, I don’t talk to anyone. My pets sometimes follow me in there, but that’s not a Digital Manners question.

So you’re saying, clearly it’s an acknowledgment you do it. Do you do it to your wife?

Farhad:  I don’t think I should be any more specific than just acknowledging it has happened. I’m not ashamed of it. I think it’s fine to do as long as my guideline is don’t let anybody know.

Emily: You have such perfect bodily control.  What are you supposed to say? “Oh, my God, I just stepped on a frog”? Forget it. These conversations are not that important. Separate things in your life.

Farhad:  You should hold it out as a possibility that anybody you’re talking to is doing something that you don’t like. But don’t let on.

Emily:  So what should this guy do? I think if his wife is doing this to him and he doesn’t like it, you hope you have a good enough marriage to say, “Honey, I’d really appreciate it. The flushing sounds send me over the edge. Just hold it until we’re done with our conversation.”

Now, if she’s doing this to other people, I also think it’s fair to say, “I think people are going to take it the wrong way if you do that. But beyond that, he can’t control her.” What do you think?

Farhad: If he’s the guy on the other end…

Emily:  Ha, ha!

Farhad:  He should tell her that he doesn’t like it and hopefully she will stop. And I agree with you on the other score too. If she’s talking to other people and doing this, he should let her know that it might not be the best way to maintain a friendship.

Emily:  I also think if you’re hearing this it really depends on your relationship with the person. Either your friend is eating or in the bathroom and it’s a good friend, you can say, “You know what? These sounds are driving me nuts. Let’s talk later.”

If it’s in a professional thing, this comes under the category of, “I’m not hearing what I’m hearing,” and I don’t think you can say to a client, “Gee, get off the pot before you talk to me.”

Farhad:  I think it’s fine to do something else while you’re talking to someone on the phone, whatever that may be. Just be quiet about it.

Emily:  I think talk and get off the pot. Please! We’re not all so busy that we can’t take a few minutes just to do our own business without pulling other people into it.

Farhad: Send us your questions about shifting etiquette in the online age. Our address is

Emily:  You can also join our Facebook page where we carry on the conversation throughout the week.  Go to

Farhad:  And we’ll talk to you next time on Manners for the Digital Age.



Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.


Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 30 2014 10:10 AM A Lovable Murderer and Heroic Villain: The Story of Australia's Most Iconic Outlaw
  Double X
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal. But… What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.