Everyday Etiquette for Public-Place Encounters

11 unwritten rules while in parking lots, planes, stores, and beyond.

Photo by Jim Franco

Are the rules for navigating a crowded sidewalk or hallway the same as the ones for the road?
Absolutely. "You walk on the right and pass on the left," says Charles Purdy, a columnist for SF Weekly, in San Francisco, and the author of Urban Etiquette: Marvelous Manners for the Modern Metropolis (Wildcat Canyon, $15, amazon.com). And keep in mind that people shouldn't walk more than two abreast, says Sheryl Shade, author of As a Lady Would Say: Responses to Life's Important (and Sometimes Awkward) Situations (Rutledge Hill Press, $15, amazon.com). But "there's nothing you can do when other people don't play by the rules," Purdy adds. "When that happens, you should avoid bumping into them or causing an accident―just like on the road."
On the sidewalk, feel free to shuck off the Victorian custom of a gentleman's walking closer to the curb to protect a lady from mud from passing carriages. "The person on the inside should be whoever is wearing the nicer trousers that day," Purdy says with a laugh.
 On a cross-country flight, I'm seated next to a chatterbox who wants to swap life stories. How do I let her know that I don't?
Start with nonverbal cues, if possible. Carolyn Hanley, who flies about 60,000 miles each year as a technical trainer for a semiconductor-equipment company in Austin, Texas, has dealt with nosy seatmates on several continents. Her advice: Thumb through the pages of a book, open your laptop, or pull out your PDA. Or, if you've already started to engage the talker, "break off the conversation by calling the flight attendant over and asking a question like 'When do we actually land?' or 'Could I get a rum and Coke―quickly?'"
Nancy Huss, who spent 32 years as a flight attendant for TWA, notes two other important points of high-altitude etiquette. If you need to leave a window seat to stretch or use the facilities and your neighbor is asleep, "lightly tap her on the shoulder instead of attempting to crawl over her," says Huss. "No one wants to be rudely awakened by someone doing acrobatics on top of her, especially if there is turbulence." And don't bolt from your seat as soon as the plane arrives at the gate, says Huss. Exit one row at a time. Pretend you're leaving a church after a wedding.