Is There Such a Thing as Sidewalk Etiquette?
Sidewalk manners still exist (or they should). Real Simple etiquette expert Catherine Newman explains how to politely navigate a busy street.
Q. When I was growing up, I was taught to walk on the right side of the sidewalk, and that’s the standard I follow to this day. But I’ve noticed others don’t always reciprocate. They walk on whichever side they wish, even when it means they might barrel into someone.
Lately this behavior has annoyed me so much that I’ve insisted on keeping to my side of the pavement, even if it means that I inconvenience everyone coming in the other direction. Has sidewalk etiquette gone out of fashion?
A. Sidewalk manners still exist (or they should), and you are correct that the cardinal rule is keeping to the right, just as you do when driving a car or riding a bike. But as you’ve noticed, many people routinely violate this rule. This is a shame. If everybody stayed to the right as you do, even the most congested sidewalks would flow freely.
That said, your plan of insisting on keeping to your side of the walkway is somewhat problematic, as are most solutions that involve the word insist. I’m sympathetic, given that there’s a certain strain of sidewalk aggressiveness that particularly exasperates me, which generally involves (cough—male—cough) pedestrians heading straight for me and forcing me to move out of their way. But being stubborn is more likely to make you unhappy (or to result in your injury) than to teach anyone a lesson. Sometimes it’s better to be flexible—and unharmed!—than right.
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Want to Ask Your Own Etiquette Question?
Submit your social conundrums to Catherine at realsimple.com/modernmanners. Selected letters will be featured on the website each month.