Urban Umbrella Etiquette

On this dreary day, I thought I'd share with you my ideas for proper etiquette for people who use umbrellas in the city. I'm no miss manners (as those who know me would gladly attest to) but I've been on both the giving and receiving ends of umbrella faux pas that make life in the city just a little less pleasant for everyone.

1. Know your area of influence: Everyone must remember that the umbrella, when used, is now an extension of one's self. According to the internet (admittedly not authoritative) the average person takes up about 2 square feet of space. An umbrella increases that to at least 3 square feet. Imagine standing on floor tiles: alone you take up comfortably about 4 (2 up, 2 across) tiles if you stand in the middle. Add an umbrella, and you'll take up at least 9, possibly 12. When walking on a city street, always keep that in mind.

2. Know your height: Nothing is worse than walking in the rain, head down and hurried, and getting a pointy umbrella spoke in the eye because some shorter person doesn't understand that there are people taller than them and their umbrella. This is particularly prevalent in street corridors and under building scaffolds where the passageways force people to walk closer together. In general the rule of thumb is this - if you are short - watch out for the faces of taller people, especially if you have one of those cheap umbrellas with broken spokes sticking out. There is a general unspoken rule when passing people in tight passageways - the shorter person holds the umbrella over the taller person so they can pass, and the taller person raises their umbrella above the shorter person's umbrella. Better still; close the umbrella till you get out of the scaffolding.

3. Mass transit: I rarely wish ill on people, but those who put their wet umbrellas on the subway and bus seats next to them so that the runoff pools in the chair, taking that seat out of service for the remainder of the day, should one day forget to lower their toilet seats and experience the refreshing feeling of a cold wet bottom. Before entering your bus etc, shake off the excess water. Big umbrella? Hold it between you knees or against the bus/train window. Small umbrella - use a bag. Think the anonymity of crowds will help you get away with that? Not in my city - I've got a cousin who regularly shouts out people who do that, and I'm sure there are others who would take it even more personally.

4. Give Shelter: Please. If you see some poor soul waiting next to you to cross the street on the same crosswalk who is getting drenched, offer to share your umbrella for the brief moment you share together. It's great Karma. You don't have to exchange phone numbers. Simply walk with them across the street with you and part ways. You'll get a thank you and a smile, and it'll brighten your grey day.

5. Couples: If you are walking together - don't use two umbrellas if you can avoid it. Pick the bigger of the two and share. Remember, you are taking up a lot more surface area, and there are people behind you. Nothing brings on the evil eye on your relationship than two oblivious lovebirds holding hands and holding up foot traffic. Fellas - you can do it too. Don't worry, sharing an umbrella doesn't mean your next step is "his" and "his" towels. Deal with your insecurities at another time, preferably when it's not raining.

6. In the Office: Please don't create an "open umbrella forest" at your office when you get in. It's unsightly and takes up a lot of space. Shake off the excess water (outside) and place the closed umbrella under your desk like a good corporate citizen. It also reduces temptation of others to "borrow" your umbrella and create a who-dun-it situation come quitting time.

7. Exits: When entering or leaving buildings, subway stops, busses, etc. Don't stop in front of the exit to open your umbrella. It's a fire hazard and tempts people to kick you in the rear. Hard.

8. After the rain: When the rain is over, and you are holding your closed umbrella walking the streets, realize there are still people BEHIND you. Swinging the pointy end of the umbrella like it's a baton, or letting it swing from the strap like a handbag creates a high risk of meeting the business end of an umbrella yourself.

There are a lot of bad stereotypes of urban folk, particularly New Yorkers, and having grown up here I think I can say its all bunk. New Yorkers are courteous and kind to the courteous and kind. Reciprocity is absolute. We are neither permanently acrimonious, nor do we tolerate tactlessness with a smile as other parts of the country may do. There are too few New York minutes in the day and far too many other worries to put our heads around. So visitors and natives alike, help out, and be a smart urbanite.