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”?

Emily Yoffe:  You’re kidding. I can’t believe you said that. Can you hold on just one sec?

 [toilet flush]

Okay, I’m back!

Farhad Majoo:  I’m Slate’s technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo.

Emily:  I’m Emily Yoffe, Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columnist. And this is Manners for the Digital Age.

Farhad:  Today’s question is from a listener who thinks at least one room in the house should be a call-free zone. He writes, “Dear Farhad and Emily, is it still considered rude to conduct your bathroom business, including flushing, while talking on the phone? My wife does this all the time.” Signed, Feeling Flushed.

Emily, do you talk on the phone in the bathroom? If so, are you conscious of the flushing sound?

Emily:  Farhad, I’m too busy reading the Great Big Book of Hemorrhoids to talk on the phone in the bathroom. In fact, maybe you can answer the great mystery of whenever you go to a hotel, what in the world is the phone in the bathroom for? Is this the Lyndon Johnson phone he was famous for calling people from the bathroom or is this, “I’m having a heart attack, so I’m calling the desk phone?” because it just seems to me grotesque to call people while they can hear your bathroom sounds.

Farhad:  We were in a hotel a couple weeks ago and the phone was just right next to the toilet.

Emily:  They are.

Farhad:  I think it’s the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up phone.” So, wait. Are you saying definitively, no, you do not talk on the phone in the bathroom?

Emily:  What about you?

Farhad:  I feel like this is a question you shouldn’t answer.

Emily:  Are you in the bathroom now?

Farhad:  If I was, I wouldn’t let you know it, because I think that’s the policy. I feel like it’s fine to talk on the phone in the bathroom as long as nobody knows. That means no talking in a public bathroom, because not only is that rude to the person on the other end, but that’s rude to everyone else in the bathroom.

But if you do find yourself doing your business while you need to do some business, then do it quietly. Don’t flush. There’s a mute button on the phone if you need to flush. That’s my policy.

Emily:  Gee. Okay, you lead a much busier life than I do. I’m going to carve out some time just me and the toilet and not communicate with people. Isn’t this what texting was invented for? Then no one has to know or hear your sounds, of course. Who talks on the phone anyway anymore? How often are you having a phone conversation?

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.



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