A new pavement etiquette?

Going outdoors at the moment is fraught with danger isn’t it? And not just due to the risk of picking up Covid-19. Having to keep our distance from other human beings on often narrow pavements isn't easy. On daily walks I have noticed certain types who make this spatial negotiation even trickier. And if these are not carried out well, they could leave you, literally, in the gutter.

So here is a light-hearted description of these pavement 'specicies' to help you spot and handle them.

1. Mobsters

This collaborative species often consists of youngsters. They walk shoulder to shoulder, successfully occupying the entire width of any given pavement.

If you are alone, there is little chance a) that mobsters will even notice your presence (especially if you are older than them) or b) even if they do, that they would consider rearranging themselves.

Strategy: It is probably safest to cross to the opposite side of the road if you can, or if not press yourself into the nearest bushes. If you are lucky enough to have grass verges, these can provide a good escape route.

2. The Snow Plough

This individual comes with extra-large equipment, often a double or triple-sized pushchair with voluminous side panels for well-filled bags. This enables them to effectively occupy similar space to Mobsters, despite usually being a single adult – though often accompanied by several extremely small people.

Strategy: If you can gain eye contact in advance, it can be worth trying out your biggest smile. Success may depend on how hassled they feel. To be fair, manoeuvring their equipment is on a par with turning a large maritime vessel, so be prepared to be patient if they do decide to give you space. Otherwise revert to the recommended strategy for Mobsters.

3. The Emperor

This species can often be identified from a long distance away. Emperors usually have fine plumage, an erect bearing and an uncanny ability to ‘own’ the pavement. Despite being solo, they manage to occupy the middle ground and diminish any space either side of them to a negligible size.

Strategy: This may depend on your personal level of sang froid. Gaining eye contact but retaining a determined, unsmiling facial expression may, if you are lucky gain you enough centimetres to be able to shimmy sideways past the Emperor; just don’t expect them to give way.

4. The Hazard Test

This species manifests itself in various forms. They often employ props such as  a very small dog on a very long lead (great for catching you by the ankles) a scooter or skateboard (fast enough to terrify you, scrape your leg and escape before they can hear your unmeasured response).

Strategy: Treat as you would a traffic hazard, slow down, indicate and move out of their way (nearby bushes being preferable to a full-on collision).

5. The Side Stepper (otherwise known at the Do-si-do)

One of the gentler pavement dwellers, the Side stepper wants to get out of your way. The problem is that they will often do so in precisely the opposite direction they need to. This can lead to a dance-type move called the ‘Do-si-do’ where, after some awkward side-to-side movement and apologetic smiles, you walk around each other while maintaining eye contact. No strategy is required with this species, just a determination to eventually pass them.

6. The Curb Clinger

This shy but athletic species prefers to either balance on the edge of the curb, or even descend into the road to avoid contact with fellow human beings. Naturally cautious by nature, they are likely to smile nervously and often flap their limbs in an attempt to remain upright.

Strategy: Keep a reasonable distance from Curb Clingers as if they overbalance, a tangled collision can ensue.  

And finally in a spirit of self-awareness it can be good to consider - which species are you?

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