Radicals are increasingly asked about or vexed by social etiquette in the 21st Century. As there is no Jeeves to guide us this section hopes to provide hints and tips to help you get through what can sometimes be a social minefield. If you have a question leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Responses will be posted here.
Here are some questions posed to Radicals:
Andrew Cotterill writes: I have a question that I would appreciate your advice on please Radicals. When walking along the pavement at an awkwardly similar pace to my fellow citizen in front of me, what are my options and which is the best course of action?
Andrew Cotterill raises an issue that strikes fear in to most pedestrians. I anticipate that the pace is ‘steady’ as there is little reason for an undignified rush or a meander – you are likely to be a man (or woman) walking with purpose. The other risk of being in close proximity is a sudden change in pace from the other pedestrian. There is no silver bullet and the easy options would be to increase pace to get past or hang back. The former inevitably leads to another dilemma: once you have passed at what point do you slow back down? This Radical would suggest at least 100yrds, possibly using a shop front or the classic ‘phone check’ ruse to provide a reason for the slowing back to a dignified pace. The latter is less satisfying as, if like this Radical your journey is carefully planned and a slower pace eats in to your contingency time (allowed for variables such as road junctions). Crossing the road may not be practicable as it may provide short-term respite but if the other pedestrian crosses after you it is likely you will be back to square one. Solutions? This Radical would contemplate alternative routes to the destination – these will no doubt be less efficient than the planned one but will ultimately be less stressful than remaining caught behind someone. And the story may provide a good ice-breaker/anecdote at your destination.
Post script: This is a very helpful steer on the pavement walking dilemma – many thanks! One more if I may. Is it ever appropriate to laugh out loud whilst reading on public transport – for instance when reading a blog on the train to work?
A wry smile and if absolutely necessary a brief chuckle if there is no-one within four rows of you. Otherwise fellow passengers will presume you are a lunatic and someone of a nervous disposition may pull the emergency alarm. No-one will be laughing if that happens.
F. Bulsara Lamp asked: When one is going through a series of doors behind someone, so that they are opening all the doors for you, should you say thank you at the beginning, the end or at every door?
This is a particularly difficult conundrum. The onus rests with the lead person to relieve the follower of their duties. As the follower it is often not clear that the lead person will be going through every door unless there are no exits. Therefore one would feel obliged to offer thanks at each door in case it is the last. The type of door will affect the situation. ‘Pull’ doors provides the opportunity for the lead person to let the follower through and take the lead, although there would a real danger of alternating the lead at every door. ‘Push’ doors do not afford that opportunity and requires both parties to be aware of the etiquette.
With any luck the predicament will have become apparent to the lead and that person will acknowledge the thanks and suggest it is not necessary for every door. In that situation you should still show appreciation for the gesture on each door with a nod, doffing of hat, or smile but still include a “thank you” every three or four doors. A solid “thank you” should be dispensed on the final door.
If the lead person does not offer a way out you should say thank you on the first two doors. If the person ahead makes eye contact on the third door a gesture as noted above should be sufficient for that and proceeding doors. If not, consider a witty addendum to the thank you on the third door, such as “the architect liked his doors!” or “it is like being in Dorking!”, to alert the lead person of an awkward situation. If this does not elicit a response that lifts the burden then you have no choice but to take each door offered with a consistent thank you. You will have behaved in the correct manner even if your fellow door user has not.
Under no circumstances should you attempt to get ahead yourself in an attempt to remedy the problem. If you are a faster walker you will still feel obliged to hold the door unless you are significantly ahead. It may also seem that you are showing off either your door opening skills or knowledge of etiquette if you get ahead and then relieve the other person of the need to say “thank you”. That would be unforgiveable.
Anon asks: Should I offer my seat on the train or bus to a lady?
It is increasingly difficult to get this right. Using your own discretion is often the best policy as some will consider what is intended as a polite gesture as patronising or sexist. It is often impossible to tell until you’ve asked. This Radical recommends you follow three general rules:
1) Offer to a pregnant woman. Life is much simpler now ‘Baby on board’ badges exist.
2) Offer to someone who is obviously infirm, disabled, injured.
3) Offer to the elderly – both men and women of an elderly disposition will appreciate the gesture but in true blitz spirit will often decline as sitting down didn’t win us the war.
To support the cautious note, this Radical once offered a seat to a lady (who fitted none of the above rules) who took umbrage and asked whether the Radical thought she looked pregnant or old. Suffice to say that she remained standing.
Anon asks: When staying with friends who have noisy plumbing, the large amount of liquid imbibed of an evening necessitated trips to the bathroom during the night. Should one flush or not?
Your friends have chosen to have guests, fully aware of the plumbing situation. They could have raised the matter in a light-hearted way to put you at ease about using the bathroom in the night. That they did not is poor form. Flushing and washing is the only course of action. Plumbing making a noise in the night is, in all circumstances, preferable to other guests discovering the fruits of your evening sojourn to the bathroom.