Sharing Public Places
with Other People

Grocery Line

Public places are invaded by people every day - shopping malls, roadways, parking lots and garages, sidewalks, parks, etc.

We all use or visit these places and, therefore, we all have to share them.  This can sometimes be a challenge.

By our nature, we are individuals, entering each and every situation with our own set of values, beliefs, ideas, and baggage.  These individual characteristics are what make us so unpredictable.

One reason etiquette guidelines exist is to keep our unpredictability in check.  So here are some guidelines for navigating public places.

Rules of Motion

When you are getting on or off an elevator or escalator, or driving in a parking garage to find a spot, there are rules of motion.

These rules make it obvious who will go first in situations - the person in front of you.  Because safety is also a factor when driving or riding on heavy machinery, it is everyone's responsibility to observe the rules and be mindful of how other people are observing them, too.

For instance, in a crowded garage, zipping around the slow-paced car in front of you because you're in a hurry could easily cause a crash.  Especially in a two-lane garage where another car could be coming around the corner toward you.  And shoving around someone on an escalator could throw that person off balance and get one or both of you hurt.

It's best to slow down, observe the movement of the queue, and remind yourself you are sharing the space.

Because elevators are nearly always two-way, allow others to exit before you enter.  When you enter, especially if there is a crowd, step to the back of the elevator if you are going to a higher floor or, in the opposite direction, all the way to the ground floor.  This keeps you out of the way of those entering and exiting on interim floors.

The rules of motion are set by logic.  Although sometimes requiring patience due to what seems like a tortoise pace, they ensure the continuation of safe movement, which is the objective.

Waiting in Line

The unspoken, yet obvious, rule for people standing in line is "wait your turn."  But since this is something we tend not to do very well, other rules accompany this one: 

  • If you are waiting in line to purchase several items, and the person behind you only has one or two items, it is a very kind gesture to allow him to go ahead of you.
  • Think twice before approaching a line and asking someone if you can cut in.  Not only might you make others in line angry with you, but the person who grants you the favor won't be winning any friends either.  And if you are the person being asked this favor, you have the right to decline.
  • When you know there will be a long line at a store, cafe, or other establishment, adjust your schedule to go when it's not so crowded.  Or skip it altogether unless you're prepared to patiently wait your turn.
  • If you approach what could be a queue, ask someone in the group if this is the line.  Many times, this prompts folks to form a line so that everyone gets their turn in an orderly fashion.
  • Respect the personal space of others in line and keep an appropriate distance between you.
  • Avoid holding up the line.  Be prepared to conduct your business swiftly and efficiently so those behind you can do the same.

Observing People in Public Places

You never know what you might see in public.  People do things that are funny, quirky, eyebrow-raising, and . . . well . . . just plain awful.

If you are one who cares about your self-presentation, be aware how your actions may be perceived by others.  Public places are also shared personal spaces.  Invading or disturbing the personal space of others may cause discord (and get you labeled as rude).

One example of this is when you are enjoying a romantic picnic in a park with your significant other and a group of people arrive and set up their own event next to you, complete with blaring rock music.  There goes the romance!

It's also a good practice to consider what you are sharing with other people in public.  If you argue with someone, gossip, or discuss sensitive personal information, who else can hear this?  Someone you don't know may hear you talking about someone they do know, which can potentially cause big trouble.

Also, remember many parks, lobbies, shopping and parking areas have security cameras monitoring activity.   We may as well make "good behavior" our default.


No matter where you are, it's best to remember that you, and you alone, are responsible for the things you say and do.  And how you react to the things others say and do is your decision.

Acting and speaking with integrity, doing your best to prevent discord, showing courtesy, and being mindful of other people around you helps ensure your time spent in public will be pleasant.

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