Sunday, December 17, 2006

How to politely bring a dirty washroom to a colleague's attention

Dear Ms Manners,

As a professional who works six days a week and also lands up traveling a fair amount, sharing private spaces is a part-and-parcel of daily life. But I often find myself in places and situations where patience and tolerance evade me. The primary one being toilets. Bathrooms are the bane of my existence.

It's not that I'm obsessive-compulsive or anything; I'm just particular about things like cleanliness. Please advise me (so that I may also pass on the information!) on proper toilet etiquette – whether in airplanes, offices or parties. Also, if I'm aware of certain colleagues who are particularly careless and messy, how do I bring it to their attention without nitpicking or sounding obsessive-compulsive?

- Sangita Achrekar

Dear Sangita,

You’re quite right. Clean amenities are a fundamental right of every citizen of the world. Ms Manners would like to make an impassioned plea of help to all those who are in a position to influence and improve the toilet habits or assist in the toilet training of all and sundry. In my opinion, it should be mandatory that toilet training be included in school curriculums.

There appears to be a dichotomy of sorts here though. It is truly incomprehensible how our homes are well kept but public property does not warrant the same consideration from most. I was immensely embarrassed to note that this was also a foreigner’s observation, pasted on a website that had information on the culture, habits, protocol and mannerisms of Indians, for foreigners intending to travel to the country.

Little wonder then that our esteemed National carrier runs a program demonstrating the use of the toilet, as soon as the aircraft takes off! Could our ‘sahib’ or ‘memsahib’ culture and attitude be to blame here? Besides there seems to be the perception that cleaning etc is demeaning and below a person’s dignity.

To the point in question, generally a poster in the restroom requesting the proper use of the amenities does the trick. There are many funny posters that will get the message across without disturbing the peace. If that don’t work, resort to a more direct approach and paste a notice categorically stating that the misuse of the amenities will not be tolerated. In most cases the offenders will take the hint.

Today the Spartan humble toilet has given way to the washroom which functions more as a restroom rather than a mere toilet. Restrooms are places where a person can rest their weary feet, freshen up and refresh their energy. Increasingly important therefore, that the area is clean and pleasant.

Since the opposite is normally true, this is a matter of grave concern and I feel a responsibility to do my bit to ensure that a standard of hygiene is maintained. My effort, here is to gently jog the sleeping senses and create an awareness. Should we all religiously adhere to these few suggestions, I am sure using a public washroom will be a pleasant experience rather than a nightmare!

· Inculcate a sense of pride and concern for in your surroundings
· Quickly shed the notion that caring for public property is not your responsibility—we must take collective responsibility for our environment.
· Men should lift the seat before using a toilet
· Should you dribble on the rim of the toilet bowl please be kind enough to wipe it with a tissue.
· Don’t clog the toilet with toilet paper or litter the room with it either.
· Wash basins must be used for washing hands and face only.
· Make sure the water doesn’t splash outside the sink. Should that happen, wipe it with the tissue.
· Always flush after use and never clog the toilet with unmentionables.
· Throw used towels and tissue in the bins provided for soiled items and not on the floor
· Do not spit on the floor
· Do not eat pan. If you spit pan juice in the basin please wash the stain away with plenty of water.
· Never use the floor as your toilet
· Don’t comb your hair over the sink and leave strands of hair forming intricate patterns on the floor or sink.
· Don’t blow your nose in the washbasin. Use a tissue and flush it down the toilet.

The appalling condition of the railway waiting rooms/retiring rooms airports etc are a virtual eye sore. The authorities have a responsibility as well. Public toilets should have running water,
And be well stocked with toilet paper, paper towels, hand driers, liquid soap and last but by no means the least, room fresheners.

Restroom are generally designed in relaxing colours and should be well ventilated and with air purifiers. Finally, remember to leave the public utility in the same condition that you encountered it in the first place. A good rest in a clean, pleasantly designed and decorated restroom does promote a sense of well being.

Best wishes,

~Rukhsana Eisa.

Facing an etiquette crisis? Please mail Ms Eisa at with your queries.