How Not To Be A Jerk in Public Places

I once watched a TV show in which a guy claimed he went briefly to hell. He described a place where angry people fiercely pushed him towards a dark, ominous spot, their shoves growing increasingly violent the closer he got to the darkness. He wasn’t sure what awaited him in the darkness, but dreaded it, and was able to force his way back through the pushy people until he woke back up in the hospital, where he was recovering from a heart attack.
Clearly, this man is full of it. He wasn’t describing hell at all. He was describing the Webster Place movie theaters on a typical Friday night.
After visiting the cinema with a friend a couple days ago, I feel the urge to give a few reminders about civil etiquette in public places. While the employees of the theater did the best they could to keep the large crowds moving and informed, I was appalled by the ridiculous behavior of my fellow patrons. To alleviate the hardships they caused and hopefully create a more enjoyable experience for everybody, I’d like to offer two easy-to-follow tips for how to act in public spaces.
1. Use only the space you need, starting with parking spaces. In the movie theater parking garage, my friend and I could not believe how many cars purposely took up two parking spots, most likely to prevent their precious vehicles from being scratched by neglectful parkers. Ironically, parking in two spaces is also the most failproof method to ensure your car gets keyed. Seriously, in an urban parking situation, you should be glad enough that there are parking spots—you’re not at the Costco in Wheaton. If you physically cannot get your car to fit within one spot, either take driving lessons, take a cab, or stop driving an Escalade. Seriously, the only reason we were able to park is because I squeezed my tiny hatchback between two poorly parked monstrosities. Speaking of these monstrosities, who is still driving an oversized SUV in 2013? We get it, you have money. You have so much money that you can buy a really big car with really shiny things on the tires. You have so much money that you waste it on gas. You have so much money that donating just a little could change the lives of many people, but it’s cool, you just use it to buy an ugly car that you can’t even park. Good for you.
This advice is not exclusive to parking spaces. Last summer, while attending one of the CSO concerts at Millennium Park, my husband and I were stymied by countless families who seemed to need a full acre to contain their picnic and two children. Some even brought little flags that said “Kid Friendly Zone,” as if to pre-empt any complaints about their cherubs while everyone else strained to hear the music. The lawn seating is first come, first serve, so I guess it’s fine that they take all the space that they had apparently been staking out since noon. But seriously. While they blissfully spread out, drinking their wine and ignoring their kids (who would rather be playing literally anywhere else in Millennium Park at that moment), my husband and I huddled onto a blanket folded into the size of a pizza box, craning to hear the music over the squawk of Angry Birds on a kid’s iPad. Folks, we’re in public places. I know it’s fun to spread out, and if I had my way I’d park at a 45 degree angle wherever the heck I wanted to, but that’s not a considerate thing to do. Of course be attentive to your own needs and wishes, but not at the expense of the thousands of people around you.
2. Get off your phone and enjoy the fact that you’re out somewhere doing something. At the movie theater, the line stretched past what the red rope could contain, yet while two of the three cashiers were available to help, the first six people in line were all on their phones and not paying any attention whatsoever. It was so ridiculous that the teacher in me (embarrassingly) piped up and said, “Hey guys, get off your phones.” And a girl actually responded, “You should get on your phone!” She actually said that. What does that even mean? Anyway, not only is it annoying that they were so immersed in their Facebook or texting or whatever they were doing that they held up dozens of other people, but these people had no awareness of what was happening around them. These are the people who go to the Grand Canyon and are more obsessed with getting a picture of them on their camera and uploading it right away than simply absorbing nature in its rawest, most beautiful state. These are the people who go to specific restaurants and bars just so they can “check in” on Facebook. These are the people who go to the beach and would rather gossip about what their friends who aren’t there are saying and doing online than actually have meaningful conversation with their friends who are with them. (Note: I am not necessarily above this. Just sayin’.) Get off of your phone and be present in the situation.
These are certainly not the only two things I feel like screaming when in a public place full of inconsiderate people, but they’re two of the biggest things. What other tips for public etiquette do you have that could make your experiences more pleasant, peaceful, and enjoyable?

Filed under: Community, Etiquette


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    Most people are just self absorbed and unaware. My buddy and I hypothesized that because we both grew up playing sports (where you're indirectly or directly trained to be hyper-aware of your surroundings), that we seem to be much more aware of the people and things around us than other people. This is especially helpful when you're navigating a crowded street in the city. It's amazing how many people just wander aimlessly, who don't even make an effort to sidestep when you're walking right at each other... "No, please, don't break stride. I'll do all the work getting out of YOUR way."

    I could go on for days, but just to highlight a few peeves...

    At the grocery store... don't block an entire aisle with your cart! Don't step in front of somebody that's looking at an item just because you want to look at something too. Wait your turn! Don't talk on your cell phone while checking out if it causes you to lose your focus. The steps are always the same: place items on belt, swipe credit card, accept transaction, sign, take bags and GTFO. "What? Oh, I have to pay for my groceries now?! How unexpected. I guess I forgot to get my credit card ready because I was on my f*cking phone, so now everybody's going to have to wait a couple minutes while I rifle through my purse... for my credit card... which I knew I was going to use to pay 20 minutes ago... but, again... I was on my phone." There's going to come a day where I just slap someone's phone right out of their hand...

    When parking... if you're stopping traffic to wait for the best spot in the parking lot when that person needs to load groceries, get a child in the car seat, return their cart, start the car, check their mirrors and tire pressure, buckle their seatbelt, call their annoying daughter, and then back out of the spot... that spot isn't available... move on. Because meanwhile, there are now 90 cars backed up onto the street, impeding traffic, blocking a green light because they can't even pull into the parking lot... and it's all your f*cking fault.

    Driving... have some common sense. Let traffic flow. Maintain a consistent speed. Nothing worse than the guy who tailgates you until you give way, and then slows down and you wind up on his ass because he's not maintaining his speed. Merge into traffic when given the opportunity... don't pass a courteous driver that's trying to let you in just to drive to the "front" of an on-ramp and put your f*cking blinker on. Furthermore, don't use an on-ramp to pass during rush hour (or ever, but especially when traffic is stopped). Don't pull out of the right lane onto the on-ramp, drive ahead ten cars and put your blinker on... Who do you think you are?!

    While shopping... if an associate is helping one customer, it's not okay for you to just barge in and demand that associates attention. Even if you say "excuse me"... Somebody is utilizing their help. Wait your turn! "Excuse me" doesn't give you carte blanche to just start asking questions and demanding help from a salesperson who is attending to another customer.

    At the airport: When in the security line... I'm going to bet the farm that they're going to ask you for your passport/ID and your boarding pass when you get to the front of the line. It's amazing how many people get to the TSA agent, drop their purse on the podium, and start digging for their ID... and forgot to print their boarding pass... ho-lee-SH*T. Are you f*cking NEW?! And for God's sake... move your bins up so other people can start sorting out their laptops, liquids, etc...

    I guess the bottom line is that I'd like to be able to hold everyone accountable for all the annoying shit they do. I think we owe it to one another to remain focused on what we're doing when it affects other people's lives. It always cracks me up when I see a "COEXIST" bumper sticker on the car of an oblivious driver... YOU F*CKING COEXIST IN TRAFFIC YOU HYPOCRITE! You're not a pacifist! You're a self absorbed, space cadet that drives everyone around you NUTS!!!

    Ahhhh... Nice to unload some of those.

  • In reply to MichaelCaz:

    I'm definitely with you on the traffic complaints. I especially can't stand those impatient drivers who weave around three lanes of traffic and who don't understand that the reason people keep braking is because of their own erratic driving.
    But I especially like what you say about remaining focused when it affects other people. I think that idea transcends what this particular blog post is about.
    And there is something cathartic about being able to unload all of these complaints! Thanks for unloading here!

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