On my long flight back from California, I whiled away some of the time by watching some episodes of the comedy show Curb Your Enthusiasm that stars Larry David who plays himself as a somewhat cantankerous and annoying busybody who talks all the time, and deals with his life and interactions with other comedy writers and actors in Los Angeles who makes cameo appearances. I had never seen a full episode of the show before but had seen clips and was of course aware of David himself, especially given his many appearances on Saturday Night Live during the 2016 election campaign where his strong physical and vocal resemblance to Bernie Sanders, including his gruff manner, was exploited to the hilt.
Anyway, in one episode, David goes into a bathroom in an office complex and finding all the stalls occupied, uses the one vacant one that is for the disabled. As he comes out, a man in a wheelchair enters the bathroom and seeing him emerge upbraids him for using the stall when he is not disabled. When David replies that it was the only one that was not in use, the man says that that is irrelevant and that he should have waited until one became free. In a later scene at a big reception in a hotel, David again goes to the bathroom and finds a line of men waiting for stalls to become vacant even though the stall for the disabled is unoccupied.
Towards the end of the episode, David goes back into the same office bathroom he went in at the beginning and sees the same man in the wheelchair emerging from one of the other stalls. The irascible David seizes the opportunity to get his revenge by taunting him for using that stall. When the man says that the disabled stall was occupied when he arrived, David triumphantly tells him that that is irrelevant and that he should have waited for one to become vacant.
This made me curious about the proper etiquette. I had assumed that if the only vacant stall was the one reserved for the disabled, then it was acceptable to use it as long as no disabled person was waiting to use it. But if this show is any guideline, it looks like I was wrong and the unwritten rule is that one should never use it unless one is disabled.
How does this compare with parking spaces reserved for the disabled? Reserved parking spaces are backed by law and one can get hefty fines for using one to which one is not entitled. In the middle of the show, David challenges someone who parks his car in such a spot and emerges from it and walks briskly away. The man replies that he is entitled to use the space because he has the required sticker. When asked what his disability is, the man says that he has a severe stutter.
It is clear that one should never use those parking spots if one is not entitled to do so even if that is the only vacant one. But parking is different from bathrooms. For one thing, there is no such legal backing for bathrooms and it is an issue of etiquette and courtesy and consideration. For another thing, parking is usually for long periods of time while bathroom use is brief. A third thing is that there is usually no emergency involved in parking while in the case of bathrooms, the need could be urgent.
Anyway, the episode made me curious if there was a strict etiquette in bathroom stall use that forbids its use by the non-disabled under any circumstances or whether David was exaggerating it for comedic effect. It should be clear that the converse, that a person in a wheelchair should not use the other stalls, is absurd and there is, or should be, no such rule, just as people with the disabled sticker should be able to use any parking spot they like.