The Good, the Bad and the Oblivious

Written by Jeanne Martinet on . Posted in Uncategorized.

I can only forgive some people who block the way when I walk

By Jeanne Martinet

Combine one part self-absorption, one part 21st-century apathy and one part urban burnout and what do you get? You get a way-blocker.

If you want proof that courtesy is on the wane, all you have to do is to observe the increasing number of pedestrians who fail to notice when there is someone else endeavoring to use the same sidewalk as them. Whether it’s a clump of people who have chosen the middle of the sidewalk to hold some kind of social gathering, a person walking at a snail’s pace because he is on the phone or a family of four who have decided they need to walk abreast, their arms entwined in an impassable human chain, it appears as though New Yorkers are more and more oblivious to the fact that there are others behind them who may actually have somewhere to go.

To different types of way-blockers we can assign varying degrees of culpability. Awe-struck tourists who stand in the middle of the sidewalk looking up may be irritating when you are late for work, but may perhaps be forgiven for their dazed and dazzled condition. Pet owners who are focused on their pooping poodles, to the temporary inconvenience of passersby, may be annoying but are ultimately understandable. Parents who block store aisles and crosswalks with their super-duper-deluxe double strollers do sometimes appear to have a sense of entitlement about their procreative right to slow up the world, but still, one has to take a deep breath and let them off the hook. (We must always remember that most of them are majorly sleep-deprived.) Even people who are talking on cell phones, impervious to all human movement around them, can be seen as distracted more than destructive. Slow walkers, people who are window shopping or lost, people with poor shopping cart control’s these are minor obstructers who can be frustrating, but for whom we all have to muster a little patience.

However, there is one form of offender who, in my book, cannot be acquitted, or even, for that matter, comprehended: the person who stands smack in the middle of a doorway.

What can these people be thinking? To me, the act of standing still in a public doorway of any kind is a complete mystery, except in case of the imminent threat of an earthquake. I mean, a doorway is like a faucet, a highway or a digestive tract. You can’t just stand, unmoving, in a passageway without being aware of the fact that you might be causing some kind of a stoppage. And while the blocking of subway doors is probably the worst form of door blocking, I admit I am also perplexed by the people who stand around chatting away in the doorways of apartment buildings and stores. (Let”s not even talk about folks who hold up the elevator while they chat. I may get mad and press the emergency button.)

Of course, because a doorway is a transitional space, it may seem to some to be a desirable place to have a short-term conversation, a noncommittal exchange. After all, you are ostensibly on your way in or out, so you don’t have much time to talk, right? You can be on the brink, with the words OK, gotta go on the tip of your tongue. You are in a great escape position. Who cares if someone else is trying to get by?

As a society, we are becoming less and less considerate about the needs and feelings of the others around us (and yes, I am so often on this particular bandwagon I am eligible for Frequent Complainer Miles). But way-blockers seem to me to be an especially obvious symptom of this deterioration. Why must I go through my day saying Excuse me, excuse me! when it”s not me who needs to be excused?

Maybe I am not seeing things from the blockers’ point of view. After all, there are always two sides to everything. Maybe I need to slow down and chill out; not judge people so harshly. I mean, stopping to chat in a doorway is really not such a big deal.

On the other hand, it’s also not such a big deal to just get the heck out of the way.

Jeanne Martinet, aka Miss Mingle, is the author of seven books on social interaction. Her latest book is a novel, Etiquette for the End of the World. You can contact her at

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