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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Monday, November 20, 2006

Crowd control

Mornin' folks. Sorry I posted sparsely over the weekend. I was just beat. Plus I had some semi-work-related stuff to do Sunday.

Specifically, I had to give a short speech introducing veteran journalist and author Jed Horne for his talk and reading at the Miami Book Fair International.

It was a pleasure to meet the guy. His day job is metro editor at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and he shared a Pulitzer Prize with his colleagues for their coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.You want to read a thorough, gut-wrenching, apolitical account of what happened in N'awlins? Read this man's book: Breach of Faith, Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City.

Anyway, the speech and lecture aside, the Book Fair International is one of my favorite times of year in Miami. I love it. It's like being in a candy store, surrounded by thousands of books on sale for next to nothing.

And it was great to see literally hundreds of parents there with kids in tow. Refreshing. I know I sound like an old man, but so many kids don't give a crap about being literate these days. So it was cool to see kids who wanted to get hooked on something like phonics.

But here's a matter of etiquette I can't figure out: Who moves out of whose way when throngs of people are coming toward each other in a crowd?

My wife and I were joking about this, because she came with me. We got to the fair about an hour early, so we could check things out before my session w/Jed Horne. And we held hands so as not to lose each other in the thick crowds.

At any rate, after about 15 minutes it occurred to both of us that every few seconds we had to let go and separate in order to let another couple pass between us, or to let an individual or maybe even a small cluster of people pass between us. Not once did any other couple, group, or individual step aside to let us pass.

In one case a woman walking toward us even came to a dead stop until we split so she could pass between.

I know why I/we step aside: instinct. My folks way back in the day just sort of hinted that it was courteous to step aside and let someone else pass you. They just said it was a gracious gesture, regardless of who should "get to go" first. But I wonder if there's a rule that applies, 'cause I'll be damned if I have ever (at least since I moved to South Florida) had someone in a crowded setting (especially the mall) move out of my way.

Meanwhile, I'm scratching my head, watching other couples not miss a beat and asking myself "Why didn't I restrain myself and wait for them to move out of my way?"

It all reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where Jerry's suspected phone sex operator girlfriend wouldn't spot Elaine even a single square of TP, when the two women found themselves in adjoining bathroom stalls and Elaine's roll was empty.

Not a square - or in this case, an inch - to spare.


  • Yeah, there's a rule, James. Get out of the way, or be shot at. Choose one. But seriously, that "lady" takes rudeness to a new level by steadfastly waiting till you two split so she need not walk around you. I think some people have an arrogant way about them nowadays. Just be glad you're among the 50% that, by definition, must walk sideways so the other 50%, who are so full of themselves, can pass. Shows good etiquette.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 11:20 AM  

  • You don't wait for them because you are a bigger person that that. It takes a mighty small mind to wait for the seas to part so that you and your ego can pass.

    I've noticed that the more mature the person, the more likely they are to give way (even when they are in the right) over the small stuff.

    That kind of stuff bugs me too though. I'm almost always the one to "give" instead of waiting for someone to go around me.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:00 PM  

  • You feel like such a sucker for letting even the smallest bit of disrespect go unanswered--or at least I do.

    It's funny to see someone else writing about this because I've given such things a great deal of thought. I hate it when people come around a corner and act suprised to find another human being there (on the right side) and just refuse to move. I hate it when they play power games.

    I find that if I'm feeling week or tired or depressed that I'm a walking target. When I feel (Army) strong and invincible then I look people in the eye and they get out of my way.

    You should hold your wife in closer and step behind her rather than separate from her.

    This NYTimes journalist came to my college once to promote his memoir and I remember reading a bit of the review in the Times where he described how as a young black man he'd play games with people on the street and intentionally try to separate a couple, especially if they were white.

    I would drop back behind her (presumably to your right) without letting others separate me... 'Course, maybe I over-think it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:59 PM  

  • Matt, you crack me up. You are the first person I've ever met - sort of - who overthinks things more than me.

    Food for thought though - get behind her instead of separating. Makes sense.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 1:07 PM  

  • Man I hate when people do that. It happens to me alot...most of the time, I just don't care and keep moving right around them as if they aren't even there...but then other days, I just barely move aside even if it means I bump them...and then I give them a dirty look. This usually happens when I already don't have much room to move and they do!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:58 AM  

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