The 'new loo': Where we work, holiday shop and play Angry Birds

Dec. 7, 2012 at 7:25 AM ET

Jim Seida / NBC News /
Please, don't do this, etiquette experts and germaphobes warn.

December may be the most wonderful time of year, but let’s face it: For many people it’s also the most busy, hectic and stressful time of their lives.

The challenge of juggling work, family, holiday parties and shopping may tempt you to multitask even when you are taking care of some of your most personal business. The advent of smartphones means it’s all too possible to send a few work e-mails, order a gift basket or even RSVP to the office holiday party while you’re sitting in the loo.

But just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. Etiquette experts – and germaphobes – will tell you that the bathroom is a good time to hold your calls, not your cell phone.

“If you’re in the stall touching the buttons on the phone, that’s not good,” said Katie Zabriskie, owner of Business Training Works and a business etiquette expert. “Those just aren’t clean hands. And even if they’re immaculate hands … it’s just not an image that I would think most people would want to project.”

It’s not just a gross image; it's also a gross phone. A British study released in October found that most cell phones had some sort of bacteria, and one in six were contaminated with fecal matter. The likely culprit: Not washing those hands after using the bathroom.

Still Zabriskie recognizes that it’s tough to get people to put down their cell phones for anything these days, whether it’s a meeting, a dinner or a trip to the potty.

“It’s just almost become an appendage,” she said.

That's fine if you’re a doctor and you’re waiting for a call that could save someone’s life, she notes. It’s not so necessary if you’re waiting to see what people have to say about your most recent Facebook update.

If you are absolutely so stressed out that you cannot take two minutes to use the rest room in peace, Zabriskie recommends that you at least make an attempt to hide what you are doing, especially at work. Your co-workers really don’t want to know where your phone has been.

“Use sense,” she said. “If you are going to secretly shop in the bathroom, put your phone away before you walk out of the stall.”

Instead of shopping for gifts in the bathroom, Zabriskie recommends giving that person the gift that may be most precious of all these days: a promise to turn off your cell phone and focus all your attention on your time together.

“I think the nicest gift that you can give somebody these days is your undivided attention,” she said.

And, she notes, “It’s free. That's what's even better about it. It requires some self-discipline, but it doesn't cost any money."

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