Street Etiquette

The manners of a person are clearly shown by his treatment of the people he meets in the public streets of a city or village, in public conveyances and in traveling generally. The true gentleman, at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances, is kind and courteous to all he meets, regards not only the rights, but the wishes and feelings of others, is deferential to women and to elderly men, and is ever ready to extend his aid to those who need it.


The true lady walks the street, wrapped in a mantle of proper reserve, so impenetrable that insult and coarse familiarity shrink from her, while she, at the same time, carries with her a congenial atmosphere which attracts all, and puts all at their ease.
A lady walks quietly through the streets, seeing and hearing nothing that she ought not to see and hear, recognizing acquaintances with a courteous bow, and friends with words of greeting. She is always unobtrusive, never talks loudly, or laughs boisterously, or does anything to attract the attention of the passers-by. She walks along in her own quiet, lady-like way, and by her pre-occupation is secure from any annoyance to which a person of less perfect breeding might be subjected.
A lady never demands attention and favors from a gentleman, but, when voluntarily offered, accepts them gratefully, graciously, and with an expression of hearty thanks.


A lady never forms an acquaintance upon the street, or seeks to attract the attention or admiration of persons of the other sex. To do so would render false her claims to ladyhood, if it did not make her liable to far graver charges.


No one, while walking the streets, should fail, through pre-occupation, or absent-mindedness, to recognize friends or acquaintances, either by a bow or some form of salutation. If two gentlemen stop to talk, they should retire to one side of the walk. If a stranger should be in company with one of the gentlemen, an introduction is not necessary. If a gentleman meets another gentleman in company with a lady whom he does not know, he lifts his hat to salute them both. If he knows the lady, he should salute her first. The gentleman who accompanies a lady, always returns a salutation made to her.


When a gentleman and lady are walking in the street, if at any place, by reason of the crowd, or from other cause, they are compelled to proceed singly, the gentleman should always precede his companion.


If you meet or join or are visited by a person who has any article whatever, under his arm or in his hand, and he does not offer to show it to you, you should not, even if it be your most intimate friend, take it from him and look at it. That intrusive curiosity is very inconsistent with the delicacy of a well-bred man, and always offends in some degree.


In England strict etiquette requires that a lady, meeting upon the street a gentleman with whom she has acquaintance, shall give the first bow of recognition. In this country, however, good sense does not insist upon an imperative following of this rule. A well-bred man bows and raises his hat to every lady of his acquaintance whom he meets, without waiting for her to take the initiative. If she is well-bred, she will certainly respond to his salutation. As politeness requires that each salute the other, their salutations will thus be simultaneous.


One should always recognize lady acquaintances in the street, either by bowing or words of greeting, a gentleman lifting his hat. If they stop to speak, it is not obligatory to shake hands. Shaking hands is not forbidden, but in most cases it is to be avoided in public.


If a gentleman meets a friend, and the latter has a stranger with him, all three should bow. If the gentleman stops his friend to speak to him, he should apologize to the stranger for detaining him. If the stranger is a lady, the same deference should be shown as if she were an acquaintance.


Never hesitate in acts of politeness for fear they will not be recognized or returned. One cannot be too polite so long as he conforms to rules, while it is easy to lack politeness by neglect of them. Besides, if courtesy is met by neglect or rebuff, it is not for the courteous person to feel mortification, but the boorish one; and so all lookers-on will regard the matter.


In meeting a lady it is optional with her whether she shall pause to speak. If the gentleman has anything to say to her, he should not stop her, but turn around and walk in her company until he has said what he has to say, when he may leave her with a bow and a lift of the hat.


A gentleman walking with a lady should treat her with the most scrupulous politeness, and may take either side of the walk. It is customary for the gentleman to have the lady on his right hand side, and he offers her his right arm, when walking arm in arm. If, however, the street is crowded, the gentleman must keep the lady on that side of him where she will be the least exposed to crowding.


A gentleman should, in the evening, or whenever her safety, comfort or convenience seems to require it, offer a lady companion his arm. At other times it is not customary to do so unless the parties be husband and wife or engaged. In the latter case, it is not always advisable to do so, as they may be made the subject of unjust remarks.


In walking together, especially when arm in arm, it is desirable that the two keep step. Ladies should be particular to adapt their pace as far as practicable, to that of their escort. It is easily done.


A gentleman should always hold open the door for a lady to enter first. This is obligatory, not only in the case of the lady who accompanies him, but also in that of any strange lady who chances to be about to enter at the same time.


A gentleman will answer courteously any questions which a lady may address to him upon the street, at the same time lifting his hat, or at least touching it respectfully.


In England a well-bred man never smokes upon the streets. While this rule does not hold good in this country, yet no gentleman will ever insult a lady by smoking in the streets in her company, and in meeting and saluting a lady he will always remove his cigar from his mouth.


No gentleman is ever guilty of the offense of standing on street corners and the steps of hotels or other public places and boldly scrutinizing every lady who passes.


A gentleman will never permit a lady with whom he is walking to carry a package of any kind, but will insist upon relieving her of it. He may even accost a lady when he sees her overburdened and offer his assistance, if their ways lie in the same direction.


Never speak to your acquaintances from one side of the street to the other. Shouting is a certain sign of vulgarity. First approach, and then make your communication to your acquaintance or friend in a moderately loud tone of voice.


When two gentlemen are walking with a lady in the street they should not be both upon the same side of her, but one of them should walk upon the outside and the other upon the inside.


If a gentleman is walking with a lady who has his arm, and they cross the street, it is better not to disengage the arm, and go round upon the outside. Such effort evinces a palpable attention to form, and that is always to be avoided.


When on your way to fill an engagement, if a friend stops you on the street you may, without committing a breach of etiquette, tell him of your appointment, and release yourself from any delay that may be occasioned by a long talk; but do so in a courteous manner, expressing regret for the necessity.


A gentleman should not join a lady acquaintance on the street for the purpose of walking with her, unless he ascertains that his company would be perfectly agreeable to her. It might be otherwise, and she should frankly say so, if asked.


When a lady wishes to enter a store, house or room, if a gentleman accompanies her, he should hold the door open and allow her to enter first, if practicable; for a gentleman must never pass before a lady anywhere if he can avoid it, or without an apology.


In inquiring for goods at a store or shop, do not say to the clerk or salesman, “I want” such an article, but, “Please show me” such an article, or some other polite form of address.
You should never take hold of a piece of goods or an article which another person is examining. Wait until it is replaced upon the counter, when you are at liberty to examine it.
It is rude to interrupt friends whom you meet in a store before they have finished making their purchases, or to ask their attention to your own purchases. It is rude to offer your opinion unasked, upon their judgment or taste, in the selection of goods.
It is rude to sneer at and depreciate goods, and exceedingly discourteous to the salesman. Use no deceit, but be honest with them, if you wish them to be honest with you.
Avoid “jewing down” the prices of articles in any way. If the price does not suit, you may say so quietly, and depart, but it is generally best to say nothing about it.
It is an insult for the salesman to offensively suggest that you can do better elsewhere, which should be resented by instant departure.
Ladies should not monopolize the time and attention of salesmen in small talk, while other customers are in the store to be waited upon.
Whispering in a store is rude. Loud and showy behaviour is exceedingly vulgar.


In street cars, omnibuses and other public street conveyances, it should be the endeavor of each passenger to make room for all persons entering, and no gentleman will retain his seat when there are ladies standing. When a lady accepts a seat from a gentleman, she expresses her thanks in a kind and pleasant manner.
A lady may, with perfect propriety, accept the offer of services from a stranger in alighting from, or entering an omnibus or other public conveyance, and should always acknowledge the courtesy with a pleasant “Thank you, sir,” or a bow.
Never talk politics or religion in a public conveyance.
Gentlemen should not cross their legs, nor stretch their feet out into the passage-way of a public conveyance.


No gentleman will refuse to recognize a lady after she has recognized him, under any circumstances. A young lady should, under no provocation, “cut” a married lady. It is the privilege of age to first recognize those who are younger in years. No young man will fail to recognize an aged one after he has met with recognition. “Cutting” is to be avoided if possible. There are other ways of convincing a man that you do not know him, yet, to young ladies, it is sometimes the only means available to rid them of troublesome acquaintances. “Cutting” consists in returning a bow or recognition with a stare, and is publicly ignoring the acquaintance of the person so treated. It is sometimes done by words in saying, “Really I have not the pleasure of your acquaintance.”


For a lady to run across the street to avoid an approaching carriage is inelegant and also dangerous. To attempt to cross the street between the carriages of a funeral procession, is rude and disrespectful. The foreign custom of removing the hat and standing in a respectful attitude until the melancholy train has passed, is a commendable one to be followed in this country.


On meeting and passing people in the street, keep to your right hand, except when a gentleman is walking alone; then he must always turn aside to give the preferred side of the walk to a lady, to anyone carrying a heavy load, to a clergyman or to an old gentleman.


If a gentleman is walking with two ladies in a rain storm, and there is but one umbrella, he should give it to his companions and walk outside. Nothing can be more absurd than to see a gentleman walking between two ladies holding an umbrella which perfectly protects himself, but half deluges his companions with its dripping streams.

Never turn a corner at full speed or you may find yourself knocked down, or may knock down another, by the violent contact. Always look in the way you are going or you may chance to meet some awkward collision.

A young lady should, if possible, avoid walking alone in the street after dark. If she passes the evening with a friend, provision should be made beforehand for an escort. If this is not practicable, the person at whose house she is visiting should send a servant with her, or some proper person—a gentleman acquaintance present, or her own husband—to perform the duty. A married lady may, however, disregard this rule, if circumstances prevent her being able to conveniently find an escort.

A gentleman will always precede a lady up a flight of stairs, and allow her to precede him in going down.

Do not quarrel with a hack-driver about his fare, but pay him and dismiss him. If you have a complaint to make against him, take his name and make it to the proper authorities. It is rude to keep a lady waiting while you are disputing with a hack-man.

Further reading:
Our Deportment by John H Young

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