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Walk This Way

A few years ago I moved to a new town, where you can walk to school, friends, grocery store, restaurants and more. In addition to all the residents walking, we also get a large number of tourists here, from both the United States and abroad. They also walk around.

When I walk with other people, I always make sure we “single file up” when passing people. I am almost never given this same courtesy by those walking in groups. They stay two to three across, leaving no room on the sidewalk. At first I would step into the street, but I quickly grew tired of that. So I would stay on the sidewalk and angle my shoulders so that there was at least minimal contact made. But even that wasn’t enough, as not only would the majority of people not angle their shoulders, but they wouldn’t move bags or purses so I was being hit by those too!

To me, proper etiquette is that both people try to avoid touching the other person, or forcing someone off the sidewalk (with obvious exceptions given for people in wheelchairs, walkers, and when you are trying to pass someone). And that no one has “right of way”. But am I wrong? Is there a right of way? Or does walking mean playing one never ending game of chicken? 0221-17

I encounter this more frequently in grocery store aisles where one or more people have stopped their carts to either peruse the shelves or to chat with a friend and they are completely blocking the aisle.  I typically just stand there patiently, sometimes clear my throat, or say “Excuse me”.

And yes, I do think walking on crowded sidewalks is somewhat of a game of chicken.  When approaching a cluster of people who are so engaged in talking among themselves or gawking that they appear to be oblivious to others,  I do look straight ahead and right into the face of whomever happens to look at me first.  People will look up to see where they are walking and by me making eye contact first,  I’m sending the undeniable non-verbal message that I am paying attention to where I am walking with the implied subtext that they should be, too.   When you make eye contact, you can also command the “conversation” by being the first to say, “Excuse me”.  On Ehell, it’s all about being in control of the situation and therefore waiting and hoping someone catches your mental vibes isn’t being in control.

{ 45 comments… add one }
  • Jewel April 4, 2017, 9:58 am

    There have been times when I’ve stopped dead in “my spot” on the pavement to force the group of on-comers to go around me in cases where I was certain they would have run me off the sidewalk onto the street otherwise.

    And, may I just say how I LOVE (sarcasm) to say “Excuse me/pardon me”, just to get silence or a “hmmm hmmm” in response?

  • Kimberly April 4, 2017, 10:09 am

    Square your shoulders look them in the eye and say very clearly excuse me. Most of the time you will get a startled look but they will move over.

    When people are going the same way I am and moving at a snails pace, I’ll say excuse me may I get by once. If they don’t make an effort to move, I will say You are blocking the path/way/sidewalk move to the side. They usually move.

    An observation in both situations kids that are school age or just out of high school often will quickly move over or to a single file line. It is the adults that keep or pull the kid back to the block the path formation. Then the kid will say “but Mom/Dad/other name for adult the lady is just trying to get by/we are blocking that lady. This is being taught by the adults.

  • sam April 4, 2017, 10:17 am

    It should come as no surprise that this happens constantly in big cities (I’m a NYC resident). Most of the time I’ll slide over if there’s room, but I finally got tired of always at least feeling like I was the one moving out of the way and spent a few days “experimenting” by basically refusing to move. I got bumped quite a bit more, to say the least, but you’d be surprised how quickly altering your physical presence so that you’re clearly the ‘dominant’ one in the interaction will basically encourage others to alter their walking patterns.

    Also though (and I don’t know how kosher this suggestion is on an etiquette board!), a hearty “excuse me!” (or something a bit…stronger) can work to get people moving out of your way pretty quickly.

    The latter is often necessary for the busloads of tourists that get disgorged in my highly residential neighborhood – I live half a block from where John Lennon was killed (my family has had the apartment since BEFORE John and Yoko moved in, so we’ve got dibs!), and there are some weekends where we end up with dozens of buses double parked along my street, all dropping off 30-50 passengers to gawk and take pictures. It’s become such a problem that the local authorities have gotten involved.

    • Jared Bascomb April 4, 2017, 7:41 pm

      Not to be snarky, but you have a very different definition of a “highly residential neighborhood” than we non-Manhattanites do.

      • sam April 5, 2017, 7:25 am

        Just because it’s tall buildings doesn’t make it non-residential – the upper west side is almost entirely residential.

    • Jared Bascomb April 4, 2017, 7:54 pm

      Oh, and as for this:

      I live half a block from where John Lennon was killed (my family has had the apartment since BEFORE John and Yoko moved in, so we’ve got dibs!)

      I really feel your pain. Not.

      • Rebecca April 4, 2017, 11:25 pm

        Seriously, people come to gawk at the place John Lennon was shot?

        • sam April 5, 2017, 7:29 am

          yep – I’ve come to refer to them as the John Lennon death junkies. The months between October (his birthday) and December (his death) get particularly crowded. Yoko did something quite smart in getting the city to dedicate a space inside central park as Strawberry Fields, because it actually diverts a lot of the crowd/gawkers away from the building (where people still live!) into the park where they’re somewhat less disruptive, but I’ve never walked past without seeing groups of people taking pictures of the site.

  • Cora April 4, 2017, 10:24 am

    I think the key here is that it doesn’t have to be combative. I live in a walking city too; when this happens, I do what admin suggest with eye contact, but then I usually crack a grin and say “Excuse me,” with the tone of, “Yo, fellow human, just gotta go by here, no worries.” I can’t remember a time that that’s ever gotten a bad reaction — usually the other person is all, “Oh, yes, right, other people need room,” and it’s a non-issue.

  • AS April 4, 2017, 10:26 am

    It is one of my pet peeves for sure when a group walks abreast, and expects others to move. I have this trouble with almost every town that I have been in. And often I am pushed to the wall or the road, which can be dangerous. And making eye contact doesn’t work at all times. Hence, now-a-days, I just stop on my side of the track (at a decent place, not in the middle of the sidewalk), which forces people to move out to avoid me. It is annoying, but not sure what else can be done about it.

    I have no qualms about saying “excuse me, please” if I want people to move. Especially when I am approaching a slow moving group from behind. People have often looked at me with a flabbergasted look when I wanted to overtake a group.

  • sandisadie April 4, 2017, 10:27 am

    Yes. I always look ahead and look into the face of whoever looks at me first, and am usually the first to say “excuse me”, with a smile. This almost always works. I also don’t use my phone while I’m walking. I’m afraid that I’m not very polite to those who have their heads into their phones as they walk and have been known to bump into them because they are not paying attention to those coming toward them.

    • Kendra April 5, 2017, 3:43 pm

      I tend to read and walk (used to be paper books, now they’re electronic), and I’ve had people deliberately jump in front of me even though there is plenty of space for both of us. I usually get a surprised look as I simply step around them and continue on my way. If you tried to bump me, you would have to chase me down the sidewalk.

  • Dyan April 4, 2017, 10:38 am

    OHH man I hate this, I always walk behind or in front of my husband and he does that same when there are people. I don’t understand what people are thinking RUDE just RUDE is what comes to mind

  • Ashley April 4, 2017, 10:49 am

    Argh this is my absolute biggest walking related pet peeve.

    I’ve found that walking with absolute confidence helps a lot but it still doesn’t stop everyone from blocking the whole aisle/sidewalk/whatever.

    The only thing that might be worse than people coming towards me and not moving is people who are in front of me, going the same direction as me, who just STOP to look at something, and hold up traffic Like the other day at Costco, my husband and I were walking towards the section we wanted, and there was a woman with a cart in front of us. She was already more towards the middle of the aisle than one side so she was blocking people who might have wanted to come the other direction. But then without even looking, she just STOPS, abandons her cart right in front of us, near the middle of the aisle, and goes to look at something….It was so baffling to me that I couldn’t help giggling a little. This caught her attention and she shuffles over awkwardly and moves her cart. Then she says “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to leave my cart in the middle of the aisle.” When we got out of range, we couldn’t help whispering to each other “Yes you did mean to leave it there because that’s exactly what you did??”

    • Rebecca April 4, 2017, 11:28 pm

      OK, I get how annoying it is to navigate your way around a busy Costco, but really? Can’t you be more gracious? She apologized. And she meant, “sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” I doubt any of us can honestly claim we’ve never done inconsiderate things without thinking, realized it, and then said “Oops, sorry.” Also those Costco aisles are wide – you couldn’t have simply gone around her?

  • NostalgicGal April 4, 2017, 11:08 am

    I lived in a tourist mecca for almost two decades. What the Admin outlined didn’t work on the clueless.
    Moreso now that everyone has phones to be glued to. And if you do slow down someone plows into you from the back.

    If you are a single, your best bet is a light smile, a pleasant demeanor and an “Excuse me” and do not give. Speaking up FIRST if needed often does get someone to go around instead of plow into you from the front. And stick to the right, just like you would be if you were a vehicle in traffic…

    It is not polite to force someone off a public walkway of any sorts and it is definitely low class to clip someone with something you are carrying. It is NOT an affront to any one person to be expected to ‘fold’ your group up to something that can pass or move in the walkspace. If it’s very heavy foot traffic, it may be IMPOSSIBLE unless you want to be the boors, and possibly get smacked into, to go in a wide group.

    Usually in very big cities I find it’s no problem and most people figure out how to flow this way or that without hitting anyone (personal devices accepted). I know in some areas that walking and texting is banned by law because of people hitting posts/poles/trees/other people/stepping into traffic when they don’t have the right of way… Maybe in those touristy areas the tourist bureau needs to add ‘how to be a great tourist’ and indicate the unwritten laws of the sidewalk? Aka yield as needed and don’t clip anyone? (Welcome to Margaritaville, here’s how to have your best time: (where the best places are and the best times to hit them, where the parking is and what it costs, and ‘boardwalk walkiquette’) might work)

    • NostalgicGal April 4, 2017, 11:09 am

      *that should be personal devices excepted, darn autocorrect.

    • SS April 5, 2017, 5:44 pm

      I live in a big city and it is constant 4-people across blockage on sidewalks as they meander along. I’ve fantasized about a “rules for walking” booklet to be on the pillow of every hotel in the city.

  • Dee April 4, 2017, 11:08 am

    A person should not have to step off the sidewalk to accommodate groups of people. If getting jostled is a frequent problem then perhaps carrying something – an umbrella, cane, large bag, etc. – and holding it out and away from the body would give the impression of you being larger than you actually are and may result in more space given to passing. But, yes, it is very rude when people congregate in groups and do not allow anyone else space to pass. The small town living sounds delightful while those tourists sound equally dreadful, and I guess it’s just the price to pay for living there.

  • PWH April 4, 2017, 11:30 am

    This is something I encounter every day! I commute to and from work on the train. The train station is a bit of a walk from my office building and the sidewalks are always flooded with the rush-hour herd in the mornings and evenings. The odd time we get tourists who drag their feet (sometimes in large groups) or people socializing (or on their phone) who aren’t in a hurry to go anywhere. It can be difficult to have the patience to wait to pass them. I usually do my best to wait until there is a safe spot (intersection) to go around them or I’ll say “Excuse me” in the hopes of getting by. I try to avoid passing on the road unless it’s absolute necessary. I’ve also seen unfortunate situations where people moving “upstream” get overly aggressive and just charge through people. No attempt to move around anyone, they just pick a straight line, square their shoulders and ram their way through. I haven’t seen anyone knocked to the group yet, but there have been quite a few close calls.

  • Jelaza April 4, 2017, 11:36 am

    With these 3-abreast groups who fill the sidewalk or hallway, I often wonder if, were I to just keep walking straight ahead, would they just let me collide with them? (Note: I don’t actually try that, of course; I just wonder about it.)

    • Dyan April 4, 2017, 4:36 pm

      I have to say I have done this, so tired of stepping off the sidewalk one day I thought NO MORE and did not step down..plowed right into the guy..he just stood there didn’t know what to do…

    • AR April 4, 2017, 7:37 pm

      The answer is yes, they will. Then they get huffy and offended like you’re the bad person. I’ve had to resort to this when I’ve already moved over as far as I physically can. In one case I had a wall on one side, and they still gave me attitude until I said “Where exactly was I supposed to go? Into the wall?!” I think they must have realized how ridiculous they were being, because they turned bright red and walked away.

      • NostalgicGal April 5, 2017, 12:00 am

        Love it. (your response)

    • Shalamar April 5, 2017, 9:25 am

      My husband did that once. He’s normally a pretty easygoing guy, but when a group of three young guys refused to yield any of the sidewalk to him, he’d had enough and shoulder-checked them. They roared something unprintable at him; he roared back “Next time, GIVE ME SOME SPACE!”.

      (I don’t recommend this as a solution – two wrongs don’t make a right, and all that. I really couldn’t blame him, though.)

  • PJ April 4, 2017, 11:57 am

    When I’m walking on a sidewalk and about to be run off by a group that takes up the entire width, I found it very useful (and sometimes amusing) to just come to a stop, maybe to pull something out of my purse, or to look at a store window, or whatever. It is surprising how many people actually *are* paying attention enough to avoid hitting me when they realize I’m not moving out of their way, and not engaging in that game of chicken.

    I have also used Admin’s suggestion, and find it useful as well.

    I do believe it is proper to move to the right (in the US, anyway) and to allow room so nobody has to step off the sidewalk.

  • at work April 4, 2017, 12:52 pm

    That reminds me of a childhood rhyme: Two’s company, three’s a crowd. Four on the sidewalk is not allowed. (Meaning you shouldn’t walk four abreast on a sidewalk because it take up the width of the entire sidewalk and that is rude.)

    Too many people are just not body conscious. And/or they are completely clueless that we need to be aware of and accommodate others as we walk, or sit, or whatever!

  • Wallacd April 4, 2017, 1:32 pm

    There’s actually a scientific solution for this which works the majority of a time. If you’re walking towards a group of people on a sidewalk blocking the whole sidewalk (or even one or two people blocking the whole sidewalk which happens all the time in downtown Chicago), keep walking on your side of the sidewalk while looking down at the ground. Ninety percent of the time, they will move over or separate for you. It’s because their brain thinks you don’t see them (even though you do) and prompts them to move. It really does work.

  • Eppie April 4, 2017, 2:01 pm

    People do this in the corridors and walkways in my office building. Where exactly am I supposed to disappear to?

  • JD April 4, 2017, 2:05 pm

    I can’t stand people who block the walk/path, either, and I’ve had to use some of these tactics myself. Just don’t do what someone I know did. She was walking the walking path at a sports park, and the parents watching their kids play tended to congregate in a few areas with the best views of the field, which included part of the walking path, since there weren’t enough bleachers to seat them all. Instead of walking around them on the grass or saying excuse me before walking through the group, this woman just plowed right into the middle of them while their eyes were glued to the game. She ended up tripping in the crowd and falling, getting a cut that bled a good bit. It’s one thing to insist upon one’s rights to walk the walking path, another thing to risk injury to do so.

  • Devin April 4, 2017, 2:41 pm

    On my daily commute the worst offenders are the mom + dad + doublewide stroller. They take up a 3 wide spot on sidewalks that are in places barely as wide as their stroller. Instead of non pushing parent walking ahead or behind they line up beside. I’ve definitely given a purse wack to a parent because part of the sidewalk is a 7 foot wall to the right. Sorry i can’t magically merge into the wall!

    I’ve also recently encountered a lot of people walking on the left side of the sidewalk. I always thought, in the US at least, walkers follow the same rules as car traffic, keeping to the right?

    • NostalgicGal April 5, 2017, 12:09 am

      I understand the big SUV sized strollers, safety for baby plus handy for stuff. By the same token the world wasn’t designed around those aircraft carrier sized behemoths and they don’t fit in a lot of places. Definitely, places that you have to share space (such as sidewalks) pay attention to how much space that thing is taking up and where it’s being aimed, PLEASE?

  • Dyan April 4, 2017, 4:34 pm

    while reading all these comments I notice that the ONE person has to say excuse me to get by…YOU think when a group are walking and SEE this one person they would automatically step behind or in front. How ignorant some people must be not to see the person or care.. that we would have to say excuse me…

  • Lanes April 4, 2017, 5:07 pm

    In the supermarket/store/any public space with walls, I’ll say, quite loudly “Excuse Me” in a tone that implies “who do you think you are blocking the aisle with your selfishness?”. They move, and generally look a bit guilty.

    However, sidewalk confrontation is altogether different. You’re moving in opposite directions, and surely there’s a rule that says you shift over to the side that you’re closed to compared to the ‘oncoming traffic’, and the oncoming traffic does the same – avoiding that awkward ‘which way should I step’ dance?

  • Skaramouche April 4, 2017, 8:34 pm

    This is perhaps not E-hell friendly behaviour but I’m going to share anyway 😀

    I’ve encountered the big groups that walk all in a row more times than I can count and generally, I will say excuse me if I’m behind them and want to get by. If there’s a way around without speaking, I just groan inwardly and choose that instead. My BIGGEST pet peeve is people who do not understand what “keep right” means (or “keep left”). They walk on whatever side is convenient to them (generally the side that’s farthest from the road) and keep walking straight ahead despite the fact that I’m walking towards them from the opposite direction and we are on a collision course. I spent a very long time being angry about this but always being the one to move over even though I was walking correctly. Lately, I’ve had enough. I keep walking on my path expecting the other person to move. If he/she doesn’t, I’m physically prepared for a collision but I’ve never had one. It does become a game of chicken and the other person always moves, sometimes at the last minute. Then you have the morons who think they can take up more room on a narrow sidewalk with two way traffic where people walking in both directions have to adjust. I’ve spent many years considerately slanting my shoulders sideways only to have the other person walk by me as if they owned the road. I’ll admit that it’s an exhausting exercise. I have to watch the oncoming person to predict his/her behaviour and modify mine accordingly. If it’s someone considerate, I go out of my way to adjust. If it’s a douche bag, I am prepared to bodycheck if necessary. Having said this, I’m not stupid :D. I wouldn’t try this on a deserted sidewalk with a 250lb man. But on busy streets, there’s satisfaction in not having caved to the idiots.

    @Cora, I love your suggestion but it has not gotten me the same response as you. Generally, instead of having inspired a “teaching” moment of self-awareness, I get people who move over with the air of having done me a favour.

  • Lady Catford April 4, 2017, 9:11 pm

    I live in a tourist town and there are lots of people walking slowly, taking pictures, and not actually paying much attention to the locals. We are all used to this and tend to not walk in front of their cameras, etc. But, one day whilst walking on the sidewalk DS and I were blocked by a couple of women. They almost refused to ‘see’ us. My son got their attention by say, “excuse me”, maybe a bit louder than necessary, and they did move. Then one of them said, “The locals really hate tourists”. My son answered loudly, “No. Just the rude ones.”

    • NostalgicGal April 5, 2017, 12:11 am

      Five Points to House Lordling Catford!

  • Rebecca April 4, 2017, 11:36 pm

    I encountered this during a snowfall – fresh snow, calf deep, and the foot traffic had beaten down a narrow track just wide enough for one person. Every time I passed someone coming the opposite way, they didn’t step aside so I had to. It’s exhausting to have to break your gate in snow constantly to step around in the deeper snow. After about the 12th person, I thought, “Why am I always the one stepping aside?” and proceeded to almost plow right into the next few people. I don’t know what the rule is. Maybe they were also tired of being forced to step around.

    • NostalgicGal April 5, 2017, 9:11 am

      Field and road rules in work and mountains… going up has the right of way. (if your brakes go out going backwards down the incline is much more dangerous–and having lived in Colorado on the Front Range, that is the rule IN the driver’s code). For single lane roads and bridges/tunnels, you stop at the beginning and honk horn before going through, the first honk gets to go first. On foot paths in time past it was the same thing, you would shoot first. Once in a while two on horse would shoot at the same time so they would meet, and have to decide who had to shove their horse off and walk back the way they came as the steeds couldn’t back up (sad but true). In farming and such, the load has right of way, especially with a draft team. The empty must pull off.

      In the case of the snow path, BOTH should step off the path to pass. Yes. Both. Eventually the path will be beat wide enough for two way traffic as well.

      One place I went to college, half a block south of campus a small car was parked over the sidewalk in a driveway and we had heavy snow, and everyone had to work their way around that car. Someone finally wrote in the snow on it ‘Move This Car’ and someone else replied ‘Can’t It’s Dead’. It was a house rented by like 8 students, and someone should have at least shoveled there as a lot of traffic went past it to and from classes every day. Finally we had melt off and after the semi-swallowing lake at the street and driveway cut subsided they got it towed out of there. So for like five months we worked our way around that car…

  • Cleosia April 5, 2017, 7:28 am

    I remember once when going into work I encountered one of those school groups out on a field trip. The teacher was giving instructions before they set off and started with, “Remember, New York is a pedestrian city,” and basically instructed them to be mindful of other people walking around them.

    Warmed my heart.

  • Shalamar April 5, 2017, 9:21 am

    I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve found myself on a collision course with someone who seems to be going out of their way to walk right into me. (I’m talking taking a diagonal route that will put them directly in my path.) I’m convinced that, had I not leapt out of the way, they would have knocked me over and not even broken stride.

  • Kirsten April 5, 2017, 9:33 am

    I’ve seen research that says that men are far less likely to change their direction to avoid a collision than women – they expect other people, particularly women, to give way to them. Sit down in any public place for an hour and watch it. It’s another version of manspreading – men taking up more than their share of the public space and expecting women to accommodate it.

    So now I don’t move.

    • Saucygirl April 5, 2017, 2:49 pm

      Where I live there is a large orthodox community and the men are the worst about singling up. After too many times of stepping into streets to avoid them, I looked at one group walking four across and said “I can touch you. It’s you who can’t touch me” and stayed on the sidewalk. It’s amazing how fast they broke rank and singled up. They must have shared the story with their temple, because they have all been much more considerate ?

      • NostalgicGal April 6, 2017, 3:27 am

        That is absolutely great, that you managed to get through to them. And they passed it around.

  • Tan April 5, 2017, 9:58 am

    I have a walking umbrella esp because of groups of people. It’s not polite but waving it in a large arc back and forwards or twirling it as you approach a group gets the end person to move (never actually hit anyone with it- people are very put off by someone carrying a pointy stick)

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