What is the polite way to handle a situation in which you’re walking on a sidewalk and the people walking toward you don’t bother to make any room for you to pass? This seems to happen so often lately when I’m with my partner — people walk two across without even trying to move aside, and we get squeezed off the sidewalk and literally jump the curb. My thinking is when two couples approach, each should go single file to allow the other to pass. Well, this does not happen. Do I stop dead in my tracks? Do I just walk right into them?
P.M. / Quincy
This is a pet peeve of mine, as well. I’ve been to several large cities, and it does seem Bostonians are especially, though not exclusively, oblivious and aggressive when navigating in physical space. Blame the Transcendentalists, I suppose; all that self-reliance.
If you are trying to get somewhere quickly on foot, it helps to envision your fellow pedestrians as cars in a game of Frogger: safety first, speed second, dignity a distant third. However, if you are on a more leisurely stroll, with or without your partner, you can school a sidewalk hog if you need to. (Assuming, of course, that you are vigilant and courteous about your own use of space. Do you have conversations in doorways or in front of the office Keurig machine? Do you dawdle in the fast lane? Do you sit on public transportation with your knees spread as though receiving satellite transmissions to your abdomen? Then reform your own habits first.)
To defend your lane, continue walking on the right side of the pavement. If you are walking with someone else, fall into single file. Get your whole body aligned underneath you, squared off, and make eye contact if possible. Use what your mother called your outside voice to say, “Excuse me/us!” to announce yourself — or, rather, your lack of inclination to be nudged off the sidewalk. Then continue moving forward, not overstepping your lane but not stumbling off to the curb. Keep your left arm bent at the elbow and held slightly against your waist, with the elbow protruding only slightly beyond the curve of your hip, so that if sidewalk hogs do shove past you, that’s the part of your body they’ll encounter.
Do you think if enough of us did this, persistently and politely, the sidewalk hogs would ever learn?
My former sister-in-law and I used to be pretty tight, and she once gave me a ring that I had admired, saying that she did not like it and that her daughters would never wear it. She has recently gone through a nasty divorce from my husband’s brother and has cut all ties with him and us as well. I received a brief note in the mail asking for the ring back. She claims it was the last thing her husband gave her and she would now like the ring for her daughters. Am I obligated to return it?
D.A. / Malden
Not from a legal standpoint, perhaps, but you aren’t asking a lawyer, are you? Be a mensch and give it back. Yes, asking for a gift to be returned is a tacky move in almost all circumstances, but two tackys don’t make a classy. And what pleasure can you take in the ring, now that it’s tainted with memories of this family rupture? If you like the design of the ring, take a picture so you can get another one like it. Etsy and eBay are your friends!
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.