Open Thread

by epi on January 15, 2014

Welcome to the Etiquette Daily

This open thread is your space to use as you like. We invite you to discuss current and traditional etiquette. Feel free to ask questions of each other and the community moderators here.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Nonnie Mowse January 15, 2014 at 9:13 am

Hello. I apologize in advance that this might be TMI for some. It involves restroom etiquette.

Out for lunch at a restaurant recently, I was again confronted with ‘the glare’. Because, I was using the ‘handicapped’ stall in the ladies’ room, when other stalls were empty (and no wheelchairs in sight). PLEASE readers, assist me in advocating. Not all disabilities are wheelchair oriented. There are many conditions or situations that a person like myself might need to use the grab bars in a handicapped stall. The woman who glared at me saw me stride in, check the stall and then use it for a time she thought too long, and glared at me when I came out. This time, I’d had it, and invited her to next time help me undress and do my business and re-dress in a regular stall, because of recent leg surgery and an increasingly complaining middle-aged lower back causing me issues. Once I’m up and about, I walk mostly fine. It’s the sitting down and getting up that is a big problem, and post surgery I need the grab I bars. Just because I look able-bodied, doesn’t mean I am. And please don’t suggest a cane, most of the time any more there are no hooks to hang it on, and I won’t lay it on the floor or hang it over the door where someone could lift it. The one time I tried a regular stall, I wound up using the sides of it to help me sit which made the sides separate and the door swung open. Is that something everyone really wants to see?!

There are a host of maladies that are called ‘Invisible Chronic Illnesses’, one of which I also have. People don’t look sick on the outside, but they are plenty miserable and challenged in just doing normal things. Unless my medication made it an urgent matter, I would never cut in front of someone in a wheelchair. But just like some parking spaces are used by people without some kind of device because they have respiratory issues, there are some people for whom the higher seat and grab bars become helpful.

Thank you, and may you all have good or better health this year.

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Elizabeth January 15, 2014 at 10:54 am

Was the woman giving you the stare obviously handicapped? I think most people would agree that the handicapped stall is there to accommodate those who couldn’t use a regular stall, but it is also a toilet meant to accommodate anyone who needs that! If I go into an empty restroom that has one tiny stall and one handicapped stall, I use the handicapped stall. Never once in my 35 years of life has there ever been a wheelchair bound person waiting to use it after me. Businesses are required to have those stalls, as they should be, but that doesn’t meant they’re reserved for any particular group. My advice would be to ignore the dirty looks. Who knows why she gave it to you – she might have been unhappy about any lingering…aroma. Or she might have been thinking of something negative in her own life and it looked like a dirty look. Ignore, ignore, ignore. You have every right to use any stall you wish!

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Nonnie Mowse January 15, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Hi Elizabeth, I don’t think she was handicapped, she was washing her hands the whole time. And, there was no one else in the restroom of three total stalls but us two. It’s happened to me more than once, and that day I had just had my limit with it all. She was a little unsettled at my response, and that I did ignore. But I won’t stand for someone making assumptions, I have to deal with it ANY time I go out; I look healthy but I’m not. At least that day I looked healthy, it was a special occasion and I put on some makeup. Being sick for over 24 years, I get TIRED of having to educate about it, and some days ‘ignore’ takes more energy than I have, and I was tired because it was after my meal. Sometime, I wish the EPI would do some talking about people with ICIs and their special etiquette needs…

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Elizabeth January 15, 2014 at 3:35 pm

How bizarre – how long does it take to wash one’s hands?? Maybe she was just looking for someone to send a nastygram? In any case, I don’t blame you your reaction, and maybe she’ll think twice about making assumptions about people. But honestly, in that situation, I would probably not have noticed that woman looking at me because it would just never occur to me that other people would notice much less care what I do in the restroom. I use the handicap stall all the time and have never once had an incident. And I am quite able bodied. I guess what I’m wondering is to what extent you are oversensitized to this issue and therefore subconsciously looking for a reaction? I know it’s hard, but if you can go through life genuinely not caring what other people may or may not be thinking of you, it’s a lot easier. I have found this also to be helpful: “It’s not my business what you think about me.” Be a little oblivious to others. : )

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Alicia January 15, 2014 at 4:08 pm

People with invisible chronic illness do not have special etiquette needs. Regardless if you have an illness or not that woman was rude. The stalls are there to be used and free for use regardless of why you want the larger stall anything from illness to simply liking more space or thinking it looks more clean. Sometimes minding ones own business is the polite option and the option she should have taken. You should not have to explain your bathroom habits to anyone unless you are doing something like pushing over wheelchair bound little old ladies to get to the handicapped stall.

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Nonnie Mowse January 16, 2014 at 9:14 am

Alicia and Elizabeth, as there are things one should never say to someone going through chemo, who has suffered a loss, etc., there are things one should never say to someone who is chronically ill but doesn’t look it. Perhaps describing it as ‘special etiquette needs’ was not the best wording, but people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME, Fibromyalgia, Lupus, any illness that is invisible, have to work harder at being believed and understood. To suggest that I am oversensitized when I have YEARS of experiences getting strange looks when I go out in public, was really insensitive. It’s one of the things that causes us isolation; it’s just easier to not go out than have to explain why we stumble, or why we have to lean on something, or whatever the sudden need is because our health is literally unpredictable. If what I experienced had been a one time thing, I would never have brought it up. A lot of us were raised that handicapped stalls were for the handicapped only, and literally. Using one for them can be a major production too, and the able bodied shouldn’t be in their way. I was taught that was POLITE. But there seems to be a shortage of understanding at this website, that not everyone was raised the same way, and some impatience with that too lately.

May I suggest that you go to a website called BUT YOU DON’T LOOK SICK, and read The Spoon Theory. The you might understand why, we need some extra time for knowing about events so we can plan our outing, we need understanding that in spite of our best efforts we may have to cancel at the last minute, and why something that seems simple, is sometimes completely out of our ability.

Take care…

Elizabeth January 16, 2014 at 1:36 pm

NM, I’m sorry if I made you feel further misunderstood or unsupported, but I agree 100% with Alicia. I believe that you should be able to go about your business without looks from anyone. My comment about your being oversensitive was perhaps undersensitive. But it’s interesting that you were taught to reserve handicapped stalls for the handicapped. I was not. I worked as an architect for a number of years, and I can tell you that, in a restroom with two toilet stalls (one handicapped, one regular), no one assumes that 99% of the users will use the one regular stall and reserve the big stall for the rare moment of a handicapped visitor. The counts for bathrooms are based on the total population of users, and the handicapped stall is provided for everyone’s use AND so a wheelchair-bound (or other handicaps) can access the stall. My personal experience has been that more and more restaurants are placing the baby changing station in the handicapped stall, so if and when I’m using it and I hear a mom with a small child come in, I hustle. Parents also use them with toddlers who need coaching to use the bathroom, and when the regular stall would not fit both parent and child.

In any case, I have never thought it was rude for non-handicapped to use the big stall, so I’ve never looked for negative reactions when exiting it. You were raised to believe that it should be reserved, so perhaps you are subconsciously looking for negative reactions despite your right to use it. I don’t know. Maybe not, maybe you’ve just run into some really nasty people. I’m sorry you think I was being insensitive to the way you were raised, I’ve just never heard of it.

In any case, my advice still stands. Stop paying so much darn attention to the looks other people are giving you! They’re the rude ones, and you should go about your day with your head held high. I can’t think of another way to say that I support your right to live your life with dignity, so I’ll end here.

Alicia January 16, 2014 at 12:43 pm

My point is that nobody should comment on anyone who stumbles or leans on something or uses a bathroom stall. No it is not special treatment for exactly the reasons you say. Who knows or needs to know if it is chronic illness, pregnancy, temporary illness, ect. It is not something anyone needs to know about. Instead everyone should be treated with politeness and courtesy. That politeness and courtesy means not giving someone strange looks for the things you described. Those strange looks are rude regardless of your illness they are rude. I’m saying that that judgement and insensitive behavior is rude the person themseleves are the only one who needs to know.
Basically what I am saying is chronic invisible illness does not deserve special treatment simply because everyone deserves to be treated exactly in the way you are advocating. Chronic or temporary or whatever it is not for strangers to judge treat everyone with kindness and etiquette.

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