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Lavatory Laments 

A stream of responses to an earlier column about handicapped toilet stalls

Wednesday, Feb 18 2004
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Dear Social Grace,

A question in this week's column ["Bearer of Bad News," Jan. 7], about the disabled stall in the bathroom, raises another for me:

When there are three stalls available (one of them the handicap-access stall), is it rude to take the stall directly next to an already occupied stall? I hesitated to ask before because I thought it might be more rude to use the handicap stall, but after seeing this week's column (which says if no one who needs the handicap stall is waiting, then it's OK to use that stall), I wondered again about this.

Thanks,
Via the Internet

Dear Stalled Madam or Sir,

Everyone has to go sometime -- into a public restroom, that is. This may explain the relative flood of mail we received on this subject. Let's revisit this very important communal space and consider our surroundings.

Part of a public restroom's unwritten social contract involves people pretending that they don't notice what other people are doing there -- within reason (that is, as long as those other people are using the room for one of its intended purposes). This allows us all a fair amount of privacy in such facilities. Keeping to this social contract, we mustn't concern ourselves too much with what's going on in neighboring stalls.

But most Americans still seek out as much privacy as possible when they need to take care of bathroom business. In a men's room, for example, most fellows will instinctually and with little thought about the matter head for the urinal that is farthest from any other fellow thus occupied. An informal poll (involving several friends and some mildly awkward questions) confirmed my belief that the same instinct applies to stalls, to a lesser extent. (In neighboring stalls, another person's presence isn't so, well, present as it is at a urinal.) All in all, though, I think we can safely say that it is OK to use any unoccupied public-restroom facility. Really, it doesn't bear too much thinking about.

Dear Social Grace,

I think you should reconsider your answer to "Big John," who wrote in asking whether he could use the specially equipped disabled-person-accessible bathroom stall. Your telling him to enjoy the spacious facilities seems like you were inviting him to make himself at home in the stall, and he might very well inconvenience its true intended user. Your answer seems very inconsiderate.

Via the Internet

Dear Considerate Madam or Sir,

In case I was unclear in my answer to Big John (which was admittedly a bit flip), I will state for the record that I in no way condone spending one's lunch hour, taking a restful nap, whiling away a relaxing evening, or in any way making oneself too comfortable in any bathroom stall, anywhere. (And to be fair to Big John, I must point out that he mentioned never having inconvenienced a person while making use of the more spacious facilities.)

But as I stated previously, as long as you give anyone who can use only the disabled-accessible stall first access to it, you may avail yourself of that stall. It would be truly inconsiderate -- and rather absurd -- for an advice columnist to tell readers that such stalls were off-limits, or that, unless readers meet certain criteria, they must queue up if only the disabled-accessible stall is free. I've been in public restrooms. I know that this could never happen, and it shouldn't.

Dear Social Grace,

I am recently retired, and I miss having a business card to use when I meet new people and want to let them know how to get in touch with me. Is there some kind of personal card that can be used? Something with more information than a calling card? For example, my name, telephone number, and e-mail address? I'd like something that I can carry in my wallet and use for social occasions.

Thank you,
Jacqueline

Dear Jacqueline,

In fact, the calling card has pretty much disappeared from social life. Most people encounter them only in, say, film adaptations of Edith Wharton novels. (For readers born after the Nixon administration, I may need to explain that a calling card contained only a name engraved in the center. High-society types used them as gift enclosures or left them with butlers when they stopped to see a friend who was not receiving guests.)

Many people who don't have a business card find that the sort of card you describe is indispensable. Indeed, I recommend them as handy tools for lots of people. For example, if you're a single person, a card with your name and any contact information you feel comfortable giving a new acquaintance will prevent frantic searches for pens and scraps of paper.

Like business cards, personal cards should be relatively straightforward: muted, pale colors; dark ink; and simple, easy-to-read fonts. Proper cards styled in this traditional way have the additional benefit of being easily readable not only by people but also by business-card scanners.

About The Author

Social Grace

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