“Breaking Bathroom Barriers” by Brigham Larimer

Today I broke a social norm in what I thought was a funny way. When people use public restrooms, they generally have as private of an experience as they can, as normally such happenings are done in a small, private room. It seems uncommon to see people greet one another or even make much eye contact with anyone else. But today was an exception.

I had seen a guy enter a public restroom at the testing center, and I followed in after him to find that he was in one of the two stalls. I took the one next to him and greeted him. Immediately I heard a nervous chuckle that seemed to say “What the…? This is weird.” He then responded in a normal way. I then decided to take it one step further and commented that I liked his shoes, which I could see from under the stall wall. Again, the nervous chuckle! It was clear that these responses indicated a perceived abnormality of the situation to this guy. I asked him why he was wearing the nice shoes that he was, to which he responded that he works at the MTC.

We then got into a pretty interesting conversation from those toilet stalls. I wasn’t awkward at all about the whole thing, and I think he caught on pretty quick, and was pulled toward my attitude as well, so the conversation was pretty natural after his initial nervous chuckles. This brings up an interesting point: violating a social norm may quickly feel less awkward or even normal if a person has someone else to do it with (who isn’t awkward about it). The abrupt introduction seemed to throw Preston (that’s his name) off only in the very beginning, but after seeing my casualness about the whole thing, he really didn’t show any other signs of discomfort. I left the stall first, and commented that it was nice talking, and that if I see him again I won’t even know that it’s him since I never saw his face, to which he replied, “well, maybe if you see my shoes.”

I had a fun time with this, and honestly it wasn’t very difficult or awkward, but it was interesting to think about the experience and put the pieces into psychological context.

  1. #1 by christinesellers on June 7, 2012 - 11:47 PM

    I have to say, I think this might be my favorite social norm blog post. I could not stop laughing, and I sincerely hope that you run into this guy again, assuming you remember what his shoes are like. So hysterical. Great job!
    Christine Sellers

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