As a family of four, we are always conscious of not blocking the sidewalk when walking down busy streets. We try to stay to one side and let others pass – especially when approaching us from the other direction. Typically, at home in Chicago, we walk on the right side of the sidewalk – the same as how we drive on the street.
Yes, we walk on the right and pass on the left. And, that goes for sidewalks – and escalators, too.
When my family went to Tokyo a few years ago, we quickly realized we needed to adjust our habits to adapt to the packed streets – and escalators.
Whenever we walked on the sidewalk, we had to make ourselves stay to the left to avoid constantly running into other harried pedestrians. And, when riding up and down the escalators, going in and out of subway stations, we always stayed to the left – and allowed others to pass us as needed.
Why the need to switch from right to left? People in Tokyo walk on the same side of the sidewalk as they drive on the street – and they drive on the opposite sides of the road as we do in the U.S.
So, when we went to London last week, we automatically started sticking to the left side of the sidewalk when walking from place to place. We just assumed it was the way to go given that it mirrors how Londoners drive on the street. But, as we walked to more and more sites, down more and more streets, we quickly saw there didn’t seem to be any set sidewalk rules.
We walked on the left and had people come straight at us. We walked on the right and felt like we were walking into oncoming people traffic. And, so we dodged and weaved our way down London’s busy sidewalks.
I couldn’t tell if it was just us – or if there really wasn’t a correct way to walk in London. But, thanks to the BBC, I learned Londoners seem to purposely not follow any set sidewalk rules.
According to the news site: “The British have little sense of pavement etiquette, preferring a slalom approach to pedestrian progress. When two strangers approach each other, it often results in the performance of a little gavotte as they double-guess in which direction the other will turn.”
And, dancing is what it felt like what we were doing on the sidewalks. At every pass. At every corner. At every intersection.
After a while, we just went with it. Going to the left, and then the right, searching for the open lane like a wide receiver running routes on the (American) football field. And, lucky, we always made it to the end zone with no pedestrian fouls.
Now, back home in Chicago, I had to know what side of the sidewalks pedestrians walk on in other countries around the world - and if it varies from the ones they drive one. So, I asked my fellow Multicultural Kids Blog members to share their tales with me.
When Mary Grace of The Global Mom was in India she walked on the left side of the sidewalk – like the way you drive on the street. Coming from the U.S., she had to adjust her normal route to not bump into anyone. Of course, when she arrived back in the states, she had to get used to walking on the right side of the sidewalk all over again!
Puneeta of Maple and Marigold lives in Canada where she says everyone walks on the right side and uses the left to overtake slower walkers - similar to the cars on the street. She also noted that every time she visits India, she's shocked to see that people walk wherever there is space - and warns that overtaking others on the sidewalk should only be done at your own risk.
Charu of Ketchup Moms lives in Gurgaon, India where she says people walk on the left - something that's become even more prominent when visiting markets or hill stations where cars are banned. She noted that in most places you can find fruit or street food vendors occupying half of the sidewalks - which means people often need to walk on the road.
Lisa of Knocked Up Abroad lives in Sweden, and says people generally keep to the right side of the sidewalk – the same as the side you drive on there. But, people tend to walk on the side that’s in the sun – whenever possible. In fact, she’s seen people cross the street just to be able to walk in the sunshine!
Galina of Raising a Trilingual Child lives in Italy where she says there’s no set sidewalk-cruising rule. But, most people do tend to stay on the right side of the street, mirroring the cars on the street.
According to Christa of Pura Vida Moms, in Costa Rica, where you drive on the right side of the road, people don’t like to move out of the way on the sidewalk. So, Christa often has to have awkward encounters to try to decipher who has the “right of way.” But, as an unspoken rule, women do always get to walk ahead first - when approaching male pedestrians. Christa did share that the only set sidewalk rule is that a woman should walk on the inside so the man walking with her can protect her.
Ann Belle of Kids Travel Books and Belle NRW lived in Essen, Germany where people drive on the right side of the street. According to Ann Belle, there isn't a set sidewalk rule. But, the sidewalks are gray with red brick on the left, and it's implied that the red brick is for bikes. So, people walk on the right side - or get yelled at by bike riders!
Nicolette of The Mixed Mama from New York and Melanie of Modern Mami from Florida both shared that while there’s no set rule, it's generally understood and expected that you should stay on the right side of the sidewalk.
Fariba of Mixed Race Family lives in London and noted that proper etiquette would suggest you walk on the side side of the street that you drive so your back isn’t against incoming traffic. But, it can be chaotic when coming up against someone walking in the opposite direction. She did say that while there’s no set rule, “hard and fast Londoners” would suggest walking on the left side. Fariba did note that this doesn't apply to the tube (subway), where it’s very much enforced that you stay to the right and let others pass on the left – with signs posted to help encourage people to follow the rules of the tube “road.”
I wish I sought Fabriba’s advice before embarking on our most recent travel adventure. Regardless, I’ll be sure to add checking on what side of the sidewalk you walk on to my list of items to research before heading out on our next journey.