Sunday, February 12, 2006

Snow Etiquette

I went out this afternoon to photoblog the snow and get the ingredients for what I always make a big vat of when I have a lot of time at home: Marinara sauce.

The sidewalks were already being shoveled by store owners and building superintendents. Most of the sidewalks down in the Village had a little path about a foot wide down the middle, with snow banks three feet high forming on either side. (On some streets on the East Side, the snow banks look topiary and manicured.)

The little paths make it possible to get around, but create a situation that calls for its own kind of etiquette. Like, if you see somebody walking toward you, and both of you know that there's not enough room to pass, what determines which one of you steps temporarily onto a snowbank and lets the other one pass?

Is it determined by age? I look young for my age. What if some 32-year-old assumes I'm 30 and that I will get out of his or her way, and then knocks me over and I break a hip?

Do you just keep heading toward each other and hope that one of you will get out of the way at the last minute, like some pedestrian game of "Chicken"?

Is it determined by size? Do you let a smaller, more delicate looking person have the right of way? How about a bigger, tougher-looking person who can beat you up?

I mentioned this to my husband and we agreed that one point was inarguable: If you're at a curb, the person who is already on the sidewalk should step aside, because the person who's still in the street can get run over. This applies even on a day like today, when there weren't a lot of moving vehicles out there.

Twenty years ago I was in an improv comedy class where we did scenes based on exercises from the Keith Johnstone book Impro. A big hit was "status" exercises, with us noting and replicating all of the little behaviors that indicate social hierarchy. Like first-year med students, we went around seeing "status" in every interaction outside of class. One of the guys in the class, who grew up in England, remarked that he wondered how New Yorkers didn't constantly collide with one another on the streets. On days like this, with the stakes a little higher, I wonder that too.

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