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Pretend More Things Are Toilets

April 29, 2010

My brilliant friend S. once stated, “Public transit would be so much more civilised if people treated it like a public toilet.” At first, this seems more like the fast track to making streetcars and subway trains at least 87% less civilised, never mind that the smell of many station platforms strongly suggests people already do think of public transit this way.

But, S. was referring not to what happens inside public restrooms, rather the etiquette of entering and exiting. Would you barge into a bathroom stall before the previous occupant was out? Would you shove someone aside, and attempt to take a seat on the bowl before that person had risen to his or her feet? Certainly (probably…hopefully) not!

Imagine the orderly civility of groups of commuters first exiting, then others boarding, public transit vehicles, if we treated those vehicles like bathroom stalls. No shoving from behind, no blocking the door thereby impeding passengers from disembarking, no more getting jammed in the middle of a car as people boil around you, determined to nab a seat and clocking you with their knapsacks (a whole separate issue, really). 

This lesson applies to more locations and interactions than public transit, I think. For instance, the kitchen sink and microwave at my office. Would you loiter behind me in the ladies’ room, then reach your hands between mine at the sink to soap up? No, you would not. Then why sneak up behind me in the kitchen and dip your coffee mug under the faucet while I’m washing my lunch dish, placating, “Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just going to reach through here and get some water!” Wait your damn turn!

Doorways, bicycle lanes, line-ups of all kinds. Shared facilities like printers, fax machines, kitchens, microwaves, corridors. Pretend more things are like toilets, and the standard of good conduct will instantly soar.

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