I have this belief that when you walk in public, you should walk as if you’re driving by walking in “lanes”. Slow walkers to one side with a passing lane to the right (at least in North America). People lose their minds if you drive the speed limit in the passing lane, but don’t appear to find mall-walking a particularly frustrating endeavour.
Since coming to the UK, I’ve been having difficulty walking in public. The old right, left, repeat, thing is the same, but the lanes don’t seem to exist. In Canada, I always felt like the walking rules I outlined earlier were loosely adhered to, we tend to walk in lanes on sidewalks, even if we just have a north and south or east and west lanes. Life made sense in the motherland.
But something keeps happening in the UK. People just walk wherever.
There’s no lanes.
At first, I thought maybe I was forgetting to compensate for the fact that their steering wheels are where our glove compartments are, and therefore drive on the opposite side of the street. But people just seem to walk wherever.
As a Canadian, I’m realizing how polite we really are. I spend my time walking in cities dodging the flow of pedestrians and endlessly apologizing.
Why and how did I always end up being the one to dodge?
Were no Brits going to offer to step aside?
Today, I decided to talk a walk on the British side. I was just going to walk in a straight line, and oncoming traffic could bend to my will.
So I marched in a straight line, avoiding eye contact of the oncoming pedestrian and bracing for impact.
I could see a pedestrian approaching in my lane. I kept my eyes focused on the horizon and steeled my resolve to just plow through the next British person who refused to bend the knee to my ambling gait.
At 25 yards, I saw my first target, a small woman.
At 15 yards, I set a course for 12 ‘o clock: a collision course.
At 5 yards, I braced for impact.
At less than a yard, a swivelled my shoulder and narrowly avoided impact.
Not to worry, another bogey dead ahead, this time a guy my own size.
There’s no harm in a little shoulder bump if he should refuse to bend the knee, right?
At less than a yard again, I swivelled.
On the third attempt to strike down an unsuspecting pedestrian with a limp shoulder check, I, predictably, failed.
I just can’t do it. A lifetime of city-walking has ingrained in me the need to avoid knocking strangers down who stand in my way.
Part of me absolutely won’t allow my person to barrel into someone.
The consequences of a collision are easily avoided and the fallout would be unnecessary.
In the first case, I could knock a woman down, which just makes me look like an oaf if not a misogynist.
In the second, I would either have to defend myself or apologize, and I’d invariably apologize, so I might as well just bend the knee.
But what do the Brits do?!
When Canadian aren’t looking are they constantly bumping heads and shoulders and knees?
They’re supposed to be the best queuers in the world, but I’ve seen plenty of evidence to the contrary (particularly taking the tube during rush hour).
This quote sums up the whole of walking in the United Kingdom: “Telling people how to walk is simply not British.”
It feels like playing games of chicken in rapid succession where I’m inevitably going to lose because I can’t bring myself to hold on that last fraction of a second to find out if I’m going to have to scrap with a stranger because I refused to take one step out of the way. Why can’t we both just take one half-step off course? That’s compromise.
The Brits have a conquering narrative to maintain, I understand. I am, of course, the product of one of their many colonies.
However, there really are rules for how to walk in Britain, but they don’t alleviate my pedestrian problem, and the Brits, they admit, aren’t following them all that closely anyway.
There’s one last British behaviour that this article about UK pedestrians confirms, they refuse to walk where they’re instructed and almost always do the opposite. At many train stations stair cases are marked for upcoming and down-going traffic, but pedestrians virtually always choose to go up the down stairs and down the up stairs.