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A “Good Tourists” Story. No, Really! Scout’s Honor!

I’d like to share a story that ends happily.

I live in Washington, D.C., about three blocks from the Air and Space Museum. I love my city and adore my neighborhood, but as you can imagine tourist season is often very trying. DC visitors tend to be unfamiliar with urban environments and transit, and therefore cause unnecessary delays on the Metro system by blocking escalators*, eating and drinking (which is illegal), or letting their children run amok on the trains. They come to an abrupt halt almost anywhere, throwing subway platforms into chaos, or whine audibly any time they have to walk further than two blocks. It’s frustrating, but I understand that our city is dependent on tourist revenue, and that one should always be hospitable. I try to be gracious and offer directions and other advice when asked.

Few things strike dread into the heart of Washington commuters like seeing a large tour group, especially one full of young people, on the Metro during rush hour. I feel for the organizer – it is almost impossible to herd 20 people onto an already overstuffed train, especially if they are young and/or not familiar with transit. But why they can’t schedule their travel for when the trains are less crowded is utterly beyond me. It’s easier for the tour group, fares are lower, and, hey, it’s much more pleasant for the locals. But I digress.

So imagine how I felt one summer evening when I boarded the Metro at 5:30, tired from a long and hectic day, only to be met by an impossibly large group of Boy Scouts. They were chattering and bouncing around the train like meth-infused popcorn. Most locals see train time as quiet time (my friends and I call it the Metro Cone of Silence), so everyone let out a communal sigh and dug in for a difficult ride.

But then, something wonderful happened. One of the chaperones, in a calm, cheerful voice, said, “Boys, the folks on this train have been working all day and they’re tired. Let’s simmer down and let them rest.” Amazingly, the boys immediately settled down, and a few passengers broke into spontaneous applause. It really made my day, and reminded me that most tourists don’t mean to be annoying, they just need a polite reminder to respect local customs. Therefore, I nominate that chaperone for E-Heaven.

*There is a custom on our Metro system to stand right, and walk left on escalators. Therefore, if you need to speed up to catch your train, you can, and if you prefer to stand and ride, you can. It’s a lovely system until a tourist family blocks the escalator, you politely ask them to stand aside in deference to local custom, and they give you a gum-smacking tirade about how city people are in too much of a hurry. Sir, not really, it’s that you are on vacation and I am not. Sigh. To be fair, most people cheerfully move aside when you say, “Excuse me, would you mind standing to the right? It’s a local custom, sort of like not travelling in the passing lane.”   0125-11

{ 76 comments… add one }
  • karmabottle March 17, 2011, 5:30 am

    The DC practice of stand right, walk on the left on the elevators is clever and effective. After just a few hours in the city, our family of three had it figured out. Anytime we are in DC we immediately revert to DC ways. The habits and norms are so streamlined and efficient, which is very admirable.

    Every time we are there for business or pleasure my spouse points out how clean the Metro is compared to our Atlanta MARTA rail (disgusting for the most part). It’s all because of the restrictions about eating on the transits–smart, smart city and smart, smart citizens!

  • surlychick March 17, 2011, 5:55 am

    Amen! I live in DC too and understand this completely. I wish there were more chaperones like this one.

  • QueenofAllThings March 17, 2011, 6:12 am

    As to the ‘passing’ lane on the escalator, this is not a D.C. custom, but prevails everywhere I’ve ever been. It’s certainly true on the tube in London, at worldwide airports, in NYC and just about everywhere.

  • The Elf March 17, 2011, 7:29 am

    I work in DC so I feel your pain. Like most, I have a love/hate relationship with tourists. I used to cross the Mall to get home, so I saw plenty of them. On the love side, seeing them look at our monuments and buildings with wonder remind me that they really are beautiful and important and that I just shouldn’t walk by with my head down and ignore them. Plus, they bring in much needed revenue. On the hate side, standing on the left of the escalator. I politely ask them to move to the right, but have sometimes encountered resistance there. One woman called to me as I passed her, “Slow down! Enjoy your vacation!” Vacation? I work here, and my commuter train leaves in a few minutes. If I slow down, I will delay my arrival home by 40 minutes. But I also remember that in their town I would probably feel just as out of place and get lost in their streets.

    My favorite question was the guy who asked where the Washington Monument was. I was standing at the corner of 12th & Jefferson SW when he asked. I just pointed behind me. I guess he was expecting to find a statue of the man and not an obelisk, but you’d think that anyone traveling here would have seen an image of one of our most iconic buildings. The other question I get a lot is “Where is the Smithsonian?” That’s a question with a lot of answers – there are more than a dozen different musuems and a Metro station. Most of the time they want the Metro station.

    Timely post, considering Cherry Blossom time is just around the corner and that is the unoffical start of the tourist season.

  • A March 17, 2011, 7:32 am

    I like the tip about the escalators. I had never heard/realized that.

  • Mary March 17, 2011, 7:57 am

    I have visited Washington DC about 8 times and absolutely love the Metro system. One of the best subway systems I’ve ever seen. However, I’m pretty sure I have seen rules posted regarding no food or drink. Too bad that visitors can’t take time to read the rules or listen to the announcements every 5 minutes stating the rules. It seems like I’ve always known the rule about staying to the right on the escalator. I don’t know if I saw it posted somewhere or heard it. But I believe standard rules of ettiquette state that you should stay to the right no matter where you are (in the U.S.), whether it be a sidewalk, mall or escalator.
    So glad the chaperones of this group saw that this group was behaving on the train.

  • Amanda March 17, 2011, 8:35 am

    I’ve heard that custom about staying right, passing left elsewhere, never been to D.C. I try to follow that rule everywhere it is handy to do so – at the mall, in the grocery store, in the hallways in my office. It really helps when you have lots of people walking around who are moving at different speeds.

    It is a relief to hear of someone who understands tourists being confused and lost. I come from a rural area where public transit is all but nonexistant. I have been on a train exactly once in my 31 years and would be terrified (and embarrassed) trying to figure it out during busy times and in a strange city. The only thing that flusters me more than being thrown into a strange situation is having people who experience it everyday sigh and groan like I’m some moron who is deliberately ruining their day.

  • Leslie Holman-Anderson March 17, 2011, 8:42 am

    Such a refreshing story! And such a contrast to the youth group I saw last summer on the tourist-destination island where I live, with the group’s chaperone/driver standing idly by while his ‘little darlings’ attempted to rip whole limbs off the bushes, and who looked at me like I’d sprouted a second head when I asked him to make them stop.

    On the other side of the coin, there was the time I was the clueless tourist in Denver, accidentally turned the wrong way into one of downtown’s maze of one-way streets, and three cars stopped; their drivers smiled at me made ‘turn around’ motions with their fingers, and waited until I’d done so before going on. Needless to say, I blew kisses at them!

  • boxy March 17, 2011, 8:45 am

    We didn’t know about the escalator rule either when we first moved to DC. We caught on quickly though thanks to a woman who kindly said, “hey tourists – stand right walk left!” Oops. So much for blending in as locals. But hey, we learned and never stood on the left again.

    So one time I pulled into the parking lot at New Carrolton trying to catch the Orange Line for DC. I saw a train pull in and I hightailed it to the station. A group of 6 middle aged tourists were standing at the base of the escalator blocking the entire thing. I cheerfully said, “excuse me!” and tried to pass. They wouldn’t budge. Well, I knew there was 60 seconds or less before the train pulled out (and being non-rush our meant a 15-20 minute wait until the next one) so I said loudly, “MOVE!” Not my finest moment, but one woman stepped aside. I raced up the stairs and could here them shout after me, “what’s the big rush?” Uh, the train’s leaving maybe? I had just gotten inside the train when the “doors closing – please stand back!” warning sounded. I could just see the heads of those tourists coming up the escalator and watched their faces as they too heard the warning and started to hurry to catch the train. I was just about to gloat when then doors sprang back open as they’re wont to do (you Metro riders know what I mean) and the tourists high-tailed it for the train. Happily I was able to gloat after all as one of them was lagging and caused the entire group to miss the train.

  • DGS March 17, 2011, 8:46 am

    What a heartwarming and gracious story! Thank you for sharing that. But the stand on the right, pass on the left system is not unique to DC; it’s practiced in the subways/metros worldwide, from Moscow, Russia to NYC.

  • The Elf March 17, 2011, 8:47 am

    You all probably wouldn’t love Metro so much if you used it Monday-Friday…..

  • Ruth March 17, 2011, 8:59 am

    That sounds fantastic. I’m another WMATA commuter and I work near the White House and live near a university. This means that my commute quite often involves tourist groups or college kids/college visitors who aren’t familiar with the area. It would make my day to have a chaperon say that. 🙂

  • kristen March 17, 2011, 9:24 am

    As many have said, the stand on the right, pass on the left system is used worldwide, but in DC it is almost a mantra. There are signs in the Metro stations, ads on the trains, and even announcements by the conductor or station employees. I lived in DC for 3 years and had it drilled into my head daily – I was always surprised when tourists didn’t know that was the rule, because it was EVERYWHERE. Now that I live in NYC, you can still tell who the tourists are when they block off both lanes on the escalator, but I understand why they might not realize what they are doing because there aren’t any signs or announcements.

  • Squashedfrog March 17, 2011, 9:28 am

    The escalator thing right to stand and left to run up is actually the same for London and the London Underground too!

    And this story has cheered up a grumpy frog today. 🙂

  • jenna March 17, 2011, 9:36 am

    They use the stand right, walk left system in Taipei, too.

    I used to live in DC so I have two comments:

    1.) That escalator custom only works when the escalators are working, which is basically never. 🙂

    2.) The thing I found most annoying about tour groups in DC was that they’d often – the behest of the tour leaders who should know better! – congregate and “meet’ RIGHT IN FRONT of the turnstiles in the Metro. Seriously. Or they’d stand in a group right at the top/bottom of an escalator until they were all through, so nobody else could go down the escalator until they were all away from it.

    If it were just a few clueless independent tourists I wouldn’t mind, but the tour leaders, who should have experience in how to do this, are the ones who often arrange it, and that’s infuriating!

    Contrasted with Taipei where most of our tourists (we do have a tourist season) are Chinese, Korean and Japanese. I’ve always found the tour groups from those countries to be very polite. One big time of year for tour groups is Chinese New Year (which is celebrated across Asia), for which I was also traveling. A large Korean tour group was staying at the same hotel, and swarming in front of the elevators. It would have taken 5 or 6 full elevators to get them all up to their rooms, which meant a very long wait for us. The tour leader said something – I don’t speak Korean but I think it was “let those two go first – we can all go up together but they’re just two” and they moved aside so we could catch an elevator in a reasonable span of time.

    I’d like to see more of that in the world. So kudos to the scout leader!

  • jenna March 17, 2011, 9:44 am

    @Mary – I’m glad you’re enthusiastic about the DC Metro but I can say as someone who was a DC local for 6 years that it’s really not that great. The trains don’t come nearly often enough, it’s poorly lit and there’s more crime than is palatable. The red line especially breaks down CONSTANTLY, there are all sorts of train delays, failures, breakdowns etc. that wouldn’t happen if they had a bigger and more suitable budget, it’s taken years to get even an agreement on the line to Dulles through (I don’t expect to see it open in my lifetime), and the escalators/elevators are in such a sorry state that Metro should be embarrassed about their poor upkeep. The lack of restrooms is also a problem.

    I’ve seen a few instances of employee bad behavior (though certainly not all Metro employees are bad) – once when two tourists asked a custodian for help, the custodian kindly and helpfully gave them good information, and a higher-up employee then yelled at the custodian because he “wasn’t supposed to talk to passengers”. Another time, I sent in a complaint about how trains at Metro Center will stop, people will disembark, and before more than 10 people can get on the doors will close and the train will depart, leaving an ever-growing crowd to angrily wait for the next train as a half-empty train leaves. I was told that that “never happens”, that trains “always wait for an adequate time before departing Metro Center” and basically that my complaint was silly and not worth their time.

    I later found a website chock full of similar complaints, posted after angry passengers were told that they were wrong and there was no problem after making the same observation.

    And don’t get me started on Metrobus…argh.

  • karen March 17, 2011, 9:45 am

    Re: the escalator thing- that’s true of every city with a major transit system. Please people, get out of my way.

  • Urban March 17, 2011, 9:52 am

    I also agree with you that tour groups should schedule transit rides to avoid rush hour. I’ve seen this all too often in my home (Chicago). Especially around the museums and down town.

  • Shiksagoddess March 17, 2011, 10:04 am

    When I commuted to downtown Chicago, we had this same rule on the escalators to/from the “el.” Your post just reminded me of this.

  • Wendy March 17, 2011, 10:12 am

    What a wonderful story! I have visited DC many times and try very hard to “blend in.” (Or not stand out like a sore thumb!) Riding the Metro is one of my favorite things (believe it or not) because they’re relatively clean, quiet and easy to use, but the crowds can be nightmarish on a good day. I’m the type that just wants to go, see my or sights and cause as little trouble for the locals as I possibly can. As a result, I’ve found that the locals respond much better to, “I’m so sorry to bother you, but…” Etiquette is such a handy thing to have with you, isn’t it?

    Hooray for the Scouts and their leader!

  • AS March 17, 2011, 10:22 am

    Am I the only one who thinks OP comes out as being a bit too rude about tourists? I need to clarify. This is my interpretation of the story.

    I have visited D.C. often, and I know most of the rules by now. Let me tell you that it does bother me when a group of people are on an escalator, and they want to stand abreast. Or if some of them want to be raucous in the Metro. But I don’t see how you can be sure that they must all be tourists. I usually try to avoid the peak hours while traveling, and I can empathize with the OP wondering why they’d not choose a different time (even an hour later would do) to travel (unless I have an appointment or a flight to catch, I avoid rush hour – sorry, I cannot miss my appointment/flight because I’ll be taking space away from locals! I have paid for the metro, and I have my right to be in the train). But maybe the said tourists are pretty crammed for time too. What do you mean by “They come to an abrupt halt almost anywhere, throwing subway platforms into chaos..”. Don’t people usually come to an abrupt stop when they are walking? Or are they supposed to stop slowly like a train?
    I don’t think calling all tourists bad is fair. I agree with some of the points, but it seems OP has trouble with tourists in general. FYI, D.C. is not the only city in the world, and there are several D.C. visitors who are from other big cities (I was myself brought up in a big city, and I have visited D.C.; so you can’t say I don’t know how to travel in cities). Secondly, you have no proof that the offenders are tourists. Neither do you know that they are not in hurry or something. When someone asks you directions, it is because they don’t know the place. I don’t see what is so “trying” about being gracious to offer directions or suggestions. People often ask directions if they don’t know the town. I now live in a small University town housing a very big University. We host lots of summer camps, sporting events, have football and baseball traffic coming in, etc., and we always have people asking us directions and I am happy to offer them any directions. I don’t think I need to “try” too hard to be polite as long as they are not impolite. If a tourist doesn’t know the rules, it is because they didn’t bother to read the signs that are posted at several places! (I even remember seeing a sign somewhere, maybe the airport, don’t remember; telling people who wants to stand on the escalator to be on the right, and those walking to be on left). Eating and drinking in metros is prohibited, and is posted at quite a few places too. The tourists who ignore them are like the ones we have discussed earlier – they seem to have left their brains behind. But not everyone is like that, and the ones asking you directions (as long as they are polite), or stopping to look at something or maybe waiting for a train should not be in the same category.

    I have always found D.C. people to be warm and welcoming, and I love visiting there often. But between this post and a comment to a previous post (“I lived in Washington, DC for several years, and I was always amazed by the extent to which a new location could throw people off their bearings. It’s funny because when you go to an unfamiliar area of your city, you try to assimilate. When you go somewhere for vacation, you do everything possible to stick out (e.g., wear fanny packs, funny hats, cameras around necks, etc.); a comment on “Whale sized rudeness”), I get the feeling that DC people are after all not that welcoming. We have seen from several posts before, as well as from our experiences that tourists can be pretty rude. It is a general rule that tourists should be cognizant of other people. But tourists are not locals, and cannot know everything about a place. It is not possible for them to totally learn every thing within a few days. If you think they are doing something wrong that is bothering you, why don’t you try telling them. BTW, the previous commentator – I often wear camera around my neck even in my hometown because I love photography. And people who wear funny hats and fanny packs – well, they are vacationing; what is your problem with them? Again, I wear fanny packs sometimes in my own town if I am going for field work, as it is convenient.
    From the post and the comment stated, I get the feeling that OP is discouraging tourists to visit DC, because it is an inconvenience for the locals to host bumpkins who know nothing about city life. It seems offensive.

  • aje March 17, 2011, 10:36 am

    It’s a feel good thursday! Thanks!

  • Ashley March 17, 2011, 10:42 am

    Ohhhh I can promise you that the escalator thing is NOT a rule everywhere. I am reminded of this any time I go anywhere with an escalator anywhere in Milwaukee. It’s a free for all and I hate it. My fiance and I vacation in Indianapolis in the height of tourist season (conventions, pre-season football, etc) and it’s always a nice change for us when people actually know that there should be SOME etiquette involving escalators.

  • Maitri March 17, 2011, 10:58 am

    Yeah Chicago’s O’Hare Airport has clearly visible large signs everywhere that the moving walkways are stand on the right, pass on the left. Anyone who has travelled even occasionally should, IMO, be aware of that practice.

  • Bint March 17, 2011, 11:00 am

    London Undergound makes constant tannoy announcements in rush hour to stand on the right and walk on the left, and they have signs on the way up and down all escalators. Not that this gets through to everyone.

    Nice one from the group leader, and from the Scouts too – an excellent advert for the movement!

  • Lilac March 17, 2011, 11:04 am

    My son, daughter, and I visited DC for 4 days last summer and had a wonderful time. We caught on to the stand right, walk left rule pretty quickly although early on I did have to haul my kids out of the way a couple times when they forgot. Kids sometimes don’t notice things that seem incredibly obvious to adults. I have to say we thought the Metro system in DC was wonderful. My son got separated from my daughter and I and ended up standing on the platform watching us roll away. As he had proved proficient at finding his way around the very easy to navigate Metro system I knew he would be okay. He just hopped on the next train and met us at the next stop. He’s not a very young kid, but it was a strange city to him and definitely the largest he had ever visited. I thought it was a testament to the overall feeling of security and ease of use of the system that he–and I–did not panic at the separation. To DC residents–we LOVED your city. I come from a tourist town too–albeit much, much smaller–and tourists can be annoying so I totally understand your feelings. I try to be a respectful tourist and I am training my kids to act the same way. Even if we did make a few some faux pas’ we felt welcome wherever we went! We actually had pretty much the same experience when we went on to NYC after DC. We did get some attitude or indifference from a few taxi drivers, shopkeepers and waiters but the people on the street and many of the other people we encountered at “touristy” places like Madame Tussauds were lovely.

  • Lilac March 17, 2011, 11:20 am

    One other thing–I actually don’t remember hearing or seeing the stand right/walk left rule said or posted.We figured it out by observation. My guess is that most tourists are just trying to figure out the basics of getting on and off the trains at the right spots and finding the correct platform. I never could really understand most of the overhead announcements and was probably paying more attention to my map and travel guide on the train. I can see why other tourists might miss these things too. You are just bombarded with info and have to filter it fast to keep on track.

  • LonelyHound March 17, 2011, 11:32 am

    I lived in the suburbs of Chicago for a few years. Taking the Metra in and out of the city, when I got the urge to go, was a blessing. Cuts down on traffic and my stress. We are allowed to eat and drink on the Metra. Sometimes it can be hit and miss with how clean the trains are, but usually it is due to a full garbage can that the cleaners in their race to clean and got our before the crush of people come in just couldn’t get to. Very rarely, in my experience, has it been due to somebody leaving trash on the ground and/or seats. The conductors do tell you that if you leave a mess you will revoke the eat and drinking allowance on the train. That is sacrilege as most business people like to enjoy a beer on the way home, and, yes, drinking beer, for those of age, is tolerated on the Metra.

  • Clever.name March 17, 2011, 11:35 am

    The stand on the right, pass left is most certainly not unique to DC. It is common practice embedded in most urban societies that I have visited over the years, and does not apply to metro stations exclusively. In my experience, it applies anywhere there is heavy foot-traffic and the ability to have two “lanes” of people, one slow, and one fast.

    I live and work in Toronto and it has been ingrained in me since a very early age…..it is polite and just makes sense.

  • KitKat March 17, 2011, 11:39 am

    I was just in DC visiting a friend and people were for the most part very friendly. I know about the “stand right, walk left” even though nobody in my home area follows it. About the most standing on the left I did during my stay was just to get on and situated on the escalator before literally sprinting down it (and back up the other side). I try not to make it seem like I’m a tourist.

    Also, to all the DC people, every local I encountered was very friendly. Makes me want to go back for more.

  • Cleosia March 17, 2011, 11:49 am

    If you ever read the customers suck site, you’d know what our long suffering retail workers have always known: People DON’T read signs!

  • mslily March 17, 2011, 12:02 pm

    When I visited Japan a couple years ago, I noticed that some of the escalators in the train station or airport (don’t remember exactly where) had a painted center line with walk and stand labels to designate each “lane”.

  • lnelson1218 March 17, 2011, 12:10 pm

    Also live in the DC area. I hear you!
    As far as the escalators goes, the stand on the right and go on the left does seem to be an unwritten rule in most cities. It was in Boston when I lived up there. In Stuttgart, Germany someone went as far to put “stehen” and “gehen” “stand” and “walk/go” on the escalators.

    You can really often tell the city folks from the non-city folks. No insult intended. No doubt I have broken many etiquette rules related to driving as for a long time I didn’t drive at all.

  • Louise March 17, 2011, 12:13 pm

    “They were chattering and bouncing around the train like meth-infused popcorn.”

    There have been some seriously funny one-liners in stories the past few days. This one made me laugh.

    This was a good story. I’m glad the chaperon and the Boy Scouts were considerate. My boyfriend and I are planning a trip to D.C. this summer and I will probably research the Metro now before we go.

  • KissofLye March 17, 2011, 12:33 pm

    I’m studying abroad in London and the rule about standing right and walking left is posted at interverals down/up the escalators. Handy so that the first time we all used it we knew how to avoid the ire of the locals. :p

  • guihong March 17, 2011, 12:44 pm

    I was just in DC this weekend, and loved the Metro (it was there when I was a kid but not so spread out yet). We tried hard not to stand gawking in front of a ticket machine while we figured out how to buy a farecard, or block the little ticket punching gate while we debated which way we were going (the end points are mentioned, and you have to know what direction you are going). I’d see natives watching us staring at the map and debating, and many came over to answer questions. The logistics of that trip were great.

  • AKatC March 17, 2011, 1:01 pm

    What a nice story! Being born and raised in Boston and having lived in Manhattan I can totally relate to the tourist issue. Unfortunately I do not have any nice stories to share, maybe someday. 😉

  • Me March 17, 2011, 1:09 pm

    I was actually just thinking about the “stand right, walk left” rule because people in my city so often don’t do it! I’m a student in Toronto and it drives me nuts that people will often clog up the whole escalator. I don’t think they’re usually tourists, either. Anyone from TO have thoughts on that?

    I’m surprised by the PP who wrote that university students often act confused on the transit system. If their university is nearby, they essentially live in the area – or at least commute to it regularly – so wouldn’t they be familiar with the area and the transit system?

  • Mary March 17, 2011, 1:42 pm

    Bint – I love how you mention that in London, one is to stand on the right and walk on the left just like in the U.S. One might think that it would be the exact opposite, since in England, one drives on the left. I been to London and know what you said is true, but I find if humorous.

  • Shannon March 17, 2011, 1:46 pm

    I’m the OP, and I just really wanted to share this “good tourist” story. And to learn firsthand that even a happy story can turn into “Nitpick the OP Day” here at Etiquette Hell. Thanks, AS!

    To clarify: 1. For good or ill, many people who are not from DC see my home as an assortment of museums, monuments and a zoo, not a vibrant city of 600,000 people. So our visitors tend to be less comfortable in urban environments, because, frankly, they don’t seem to see DC as an urban environment. Not their fault, and I’ve helped many a confused tourist with their Metro map and given them a few tips for local color. (Such as? Avoid Ben’s Chili Bowl like the PLAGUE. I know Obama ate there and all, but the chili tastes like it comes from a can and it’s a total tourist trap.)

    2. Abrupt stopping on a subway platform is not only rude, it’s hazardous. If everyone behind you is moving, and you suddenly stop, you’re going to have folks knocking into you and maybe inadvertently bumping you over the side when it’s very crowded (such as after Fourth of July fireworks or mass protests). This happens especially often at the top and bottom of escalators. Better to “pull over” further away from the edge of the platform to get your bearings.

    3. Since I live near a touristy neighborhood, in a very touristy town, I’m quite used to tourists. In spring and summer, I get asked for directions, or asked to take a photo of a family, every time I leave my apartment. I never mind, and no, I don’t “sneer at bumpkins” or whatever it was AS said. When I say it’s “trying” I mean it can be dang hard to get through the crowds when I’m just trying to go on my Sunday stroll. I don’t mind giving directions, but I do get a bit crazy when I explain EXACTLY how to get somewhere, and the family (usually Dad) argues with me, or starts roaming in the opposite direction than the way I just pointed.

    4. How do I know someone is a tourist and not a local? Well, besides the white sneakers and fanny packs (I kid, I kid), I tend to see the same people over and over on my commute. If someone is new, and getting up every 30 seconds to look at the Metro map, I think the Occam’s Razor conclusion is that they’re not from here. Alternatively, they could have been brainwashed, had their short-term memory erased, and been sent to fashion reduction camp, but that seems less likely.

    @guihong – Oh, the farecard machines! I’ve been here 11 years, and they trip me up, too! So confusing.

    Re: stand right, walk left. I’m aware it’s in common use in other cities, however, in DC we elevate it to the level of Mom, apple pie, and the Fourth of July. It’s a big part of our city’s character, and we have slang terms for it like escalumps and escalefters.

    I also don’t think people from DC loathe tourists, but yes, they have a big impact on our lives in many ways and not all of them are positive. Say you have an Aunt Bertha who tells droning stories and gets on your nerves from time to time. You might crab a bit to your spouse about Aunt Bertha telling that story AGAIN, but you’ll still listen politely, because you still respect and like your Aunt Bertha. Tourists, you’re my Aunt Bertha.

  • The Elf March 17, 2011, 1:50 pm

    Lilac, Metro resisted posting signs and making announcements for many years because, according to them, no one is supposed to walk on the escalators. Of course, according to them, everyone has enough time to get on and off the trains at the big transfer stations (like Metro Center). I laugh at that one every morning and every evening. Anyway, a few years ago they finally got it through their head that people – especially locals – are going to walk regardless of their recommendation and starting making announcements and posting signs. It’s probably not in your face obvious, but there’s definitely more awareness about it now. They go through phases of whether they want to make people aware or just pretend it doesn’t happen.

    With a recent upswing in escalator accidents on Metro, holding on to the handrail and not walking is probably a good idea! When they are working anyway…..

  • Shannon March 17, 2011, 3:19 pm

    @Louise – Glad you liked the story! Aside from walking left/standing right on escalators, and moving to the side if you need to stop in a crowd of people, a big safety issue is the doors.

    Take those “doors closing” chimes seriously…Metro doors don’t bounce open like elevator doors, instead, they keep closing!* Then the driver has to manually open them. Where it becomes an etiquette issue is that holding doors open damages them, and then the driver has to offload the train. Then you’ve got a few hundred people who will be late for dinner. 🙂

    *There’s a reason for this – if the doors kept bouncing back open every time someone wanted to board, the train would never be able to close the doors and proceed to the next station.

  • FunkyMunky March 17, 2011, 3:49 pm

    In Melbourne, Australia we stand left, walk right. I imagine it’s something to do with driving, as we pass on the right here.

  • Another Alice March 17, 2011, 3:59 pm

    In response to the OP thinking it rude/annoying for those to just simply stop in a walking group of people – that is one of my MAJOR pet peeves in my own metropolitan area! I’ve missed more than one train because of people coming to a dead stop on the stairs, or just walking ridiculously leisurely when those around them are trying to get to work. It drives me absolutely bonkers! It is not, however, limited to tourists. Everyone seems to have a lapse now and then, whether you live in the area or not. Every time my mom comes to visit, I have to tell her again and again to PLEASE not stop in the middle of the sidewalk to open her map. I’m not embarrassed by the map and the subsequent designation as a “tourist” – just that in general, it’s completely rude to hog an entire sidewalk for your own needs. Taking two steps to the side would make things easier for everyone if you need to pause. And hey, city-dwellers do it too – to look at their cell phones, check the time, buy a newspaper, whatever.

    But listen – it has to be ridiculously overwhelming for anyone to come to huge cities and try to make their way around. Like the OP, I try to be as accommodating as possible, and sometimes offer a polite, “Do you need any help?” to those hunched over a map, debating in hushed voices. No big city runs without at least a little of bit of tourism, so any attempt for people to be polite, residents should respond in turn!

    The story about the Boy Scouts was lovely. I’ve not only witnessed dozens of school groups on the subway, but I’ve been the teacher leading them as well! I do NOT envy those in charge, yikes. It was definitely a wake-up call. Now I just move to the next car whenever possible.

  • ashley March 17, 2011, 4:01 pm

    A little off topic but an E-Heaven actually sounds like a good idea xD Could be like a sister site to this one only having stories where good etiquette is observed and admired.

    On-topic, people stopping at the bottom of an escalator could also be because of some sort of anxiety. I get nervous around escalators, kind of a strange phobia because I don’t know where it comes from, but when I get off of one I need a minute to collect myself first before moving on. I know its still annoying, but just a thought xD.

  • Allie March 17, 2011, 4:28 pm

    That was a well-written post with a refreshingly happy ending. Makes me want to visit DC. Sorry, AS. It seems you’re on your own.

  • irish March 17, 2011, 5:48 pm

    Sorry Shannon, I’m with AS. Isn’t it possible that Most tourists visiting DC are comfortable with metro systems (they exist in many world capitals) and the tourists you find annoying are a minority? Especially considering you devote as much space to complaints about tourists as to the happy ending, I was surprised at how many commenters seemed to agree with you.

    Despite being well-travelled and comfortable in five languages, I often feel like an idiot in foreign countries (can’t work the ticket machines, try to buy tickets on the bus in Italy, get interrupted with a superior look and a reply in English to my question in adequate German, etc). I’ll know better than to visit DC now, I certainly don’t want to inspire patronising stares and murmurings of ‘poor country girl, look how slowly she’s walking’. (We haven’t got metro systems in Ireland, but I’ve travelled on the occasional one :))

  • --Lia March 17, 2011, 5:55 pm

    If y’all can stand another Etiquette Heaven story about D.C., here’s mine. I’ve only visited a few times. Each time, I’ve wanted to go back. The natives are great. They may grumble about us tourists behind our backs, but when faced with us, they’ve been unfailingly helpful. I’ve only had to open my map in a park to have someone approach and help with directions. In the one instance I’m thinking of, the young man asked where we were going, and when we hesitated, he quickly told us that he didn’t want anything. I guess people thought he was begging or stealing. I just as quickly told us that we hadn’t decided where to go next, that we weren’t sure if we were hungry for lunch or should see more monuments. He made restaurant suggestions! He knew the area so well that he asked what we were in the mood for and tailored his advice to our specific needs. Then he went whistling on his way. I’ve met nice people wherever I’ve gone, but I still remember him

  • Zhoen March 17, 2011, 7:48 pm

    “…like meth-infused popcorn” is a fabulous line. Thank you for that.

    In airports, walking sidewalks are clearly marked Stand Right, Walk Left, often with audible reminders over the PA. I was in the Atlanta airport, trying to get from one end to the other to catch my flight home, in civvies, but carrying my army duffle, and one guy was standing in the walk lane. I’d just finished basic training, it was late and I had a long way to go, and I repeated the instructions in a loud, clear voice as it became clear he was not going to move. He chastised me for “being in such a hurry!” In an airport, gosh, why would anyone be in a hurry in an airport? I barged past him as he more or less allowed me past, and I replied, “Sir, I want to get home tonight.”

    I can’t say I was particularly polite, but he was certainly not at all.

  • DCResident March 18, 2011, 2:52 am

    I live in D.C. My trick when the trains are packed with tourists (for rallies, especially) is to run to the first car – it usually is the least crowded. I once begged some people on a packed train to take my advice and walk from Farragut North instead of trying to transfer and Metro Center, because there was no way they were getting on a train during one of those rallies.

    My biggest WMATA pet peeve is when people get on the bus without the passes, and then have to dig through their bags for the cash. Usually when there’s a line, so they’ve been waiting for the bus. It holds up the whole line getting on. Either buy a Smarttrip card (which will save you money in about a week) or get your 1.75 ready while in line. Very few tourists take the bus (and the ones I’ve seen are Uber-ready with their money) so the DC residents should know better.

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