Sidewalk Etiquette

Sidewalk Etiquette

By Kathleen Baines, Columnist on November 1, 2010

Our generation has lost most forms of etiquette — it’s a bold claim, albeit a true one. I have my own theories as to why this decline happened — the substitution of old-fashioned methods of child-rearing with the “I’m your buddy, not your parent” model, the refusal to believe that this is actually real life and that if you say something nasty, MTV won’t intervene with a bleep or a conveniently placed commercial break. Or just the fact that we’re all entitled to something.

This lack of etiquette includes but is not limited to the replacement of “please” and “thank you” with “do it” and “I deserved it,” and dropping all formalities and calling your mother by her first name. What happened to apologizing even when you don’t mean it, or offering to give up your seat for an old lady even though you’re extra cozy and would rather lose an arm than move? It’s a matter of principle. And the principle is dying.

I just want to wash out all of these “you-owe-me-one” mouths with soap, mainly because I think the idea of literally cleaning out someone’s mouth is really funny. But because I can’t do that, and given that it would be utterly impractical to try, my goal is to take it one step at a time. Truly. I’m talking about what I like to call “sidewalk etiquette.”

The regrettable decline of chivalry and manners rather blatantly extends into this realm of public walkways. You might not even realize sidewalk etiquette exists — until you break it, of course. Then you’re left sitting on the curb, missing a shoe and your dignity, wondering where you went wrong in life.

To begin, you are part of a moving traffic pattern. Do not impede the flow. I cannot stress this enough.

Human beings are not buffaloes. As such, we do not need to herd. So don’t. Instead of forming a horizontal, impassable line across an entire sidewalk, you might consider walking in twosies. You also might consider not making others walk in the mud.

Instead, commit to one side of the sidewalk. Be an absolutist. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s that awkward hallway or sidewalk game of left-right-left-right-laugh-uncomfortably-and-tango for 15 minutes before committing to a side. You’ll save yourself a considerable amount of embarrassment and confusion — unless you’re into that kind of thing or want to hone your dancing techniques.

This transportation courtesy extends to driving. Put on your turn signal when switching lanes or merging. Don’t text and drive. And on that note, don’t text and walk either — unless you’re like me and can multi-task like a seasoned pro. You will inevitably veer into the other lane of traffic — walking or driving — and cause disaster.

Fair-weather transit is difficult enough, but rain poses an especially potent threat to “sidewalk etiquette.” I feel successful when I make it home with both of my eyes intact after a rainy day on Grounds. The umbrella-point dodging is not an easy game, and I’m sick of keeping a tight perimeter at all drizzly times. Especially uncovered walkways. Using an umbrella under a covered walkway is the equivalent to wearing your sunglasses to bed at night — unless you sleep with the light on, in which case you’re weird and need to insert the analogy of your choice here. I personally boycotted umbrella use for a-year-and-half for these very reasons. Point in case, you can use an umbrella. Just be careful not to impale people. A few drops of water on your head are well worth this avoidance.

Many people don’t follow any semblance of manners on the sidewalk, in the hallway or in life. It’s every man for himself. I once had a cute guy swap places with me and walk road-side during a particularly intense rainstorm so I wouldn’t get splashed with tire-spray. I thought he was deranged. Turns out he’s just a really nice guy. Who knew.
Bottom line, we all have our personal breeches of etiquette, side-walking not excluded. I, for instance, am an aggressive tailgater — some driving tendencies do carry into all areas of life. Just be aware of your environment, respect other people’s space and safety and abide by the rules of the road. McCormick Road isn’t the Autobahn.

Kathleen’s column runs biweekly Mondays in the Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia.

She can be reached at