Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Pedestrians to the right! (Angelo Villaschi/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Pedestrians to the right! (Angelo Villaschi/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

COLLECTED WISDOM

Do the rules of the road apply on foot? Add to ...

This week, Collected Wisdom returns from travelling the world in the name of etiquette.

THE QUESTION

“We drive on the right and, when we're walking, we almost always keep to the right” to avoid oncoming pedestrians, Brian P.H. Green of Thunder Bay, Ont., noted. In Britain, he then asked, do pedestrians keep to the left?

THE ANSWER

“We know from a passage in James Boswell's Life of Johnson how pedestrians behaved in 18th-century London,” writes Tim Nau of Toronto. After mentioning that, in his mother's time, people fought to be close to the wall when passing, Dr. Johnson says: “Now it is fixed that every man keeps to the right.”

Interesting, but what about the 21st century?

“After decades of travels, my observation is that the British pedestrians are rather confused,” writes Tom Beechy of Toronto. “Although Brits drive on the left, they generally tend to walk on the right.” Also, on escalators people are expected to stand on the right and pass on the left, just as in North America.

Japan, where they also drive on the left, provides an interesting contrast, he says. “There, the pedestrian practice definitely is to pass on the left. While this isn't necessarily uniform practice in casual walking, such as on a shopping street, it definitely is necessary in rush hour. Woe betide the person who tries to walk on the right in the face of oncoming hordes of commuters emerging from a train station.”

Elizabeth Mathers of Vancouver, however, says there's no rhyme or reason to which side Brit pedestrians pass each other, “which makes negotiating the sidewalks of London a confusing experience when jet-lagged.”

To examine this burning issue further, Collected Wisdom made a minor dent in its lavish travel budget and flew to India, where they drive on the left, and then Britain. (Where did you think we've been the past two weeks?)

In Delhi's chaotic traffic, it seems even motor vehicles don't necessarily keep to the left, so any conclusions regarding pedestrians would be questionable.

The story is much the same here in Winchester, the cathedral town in southern England where CW has been observing pedestrian habits. From our extensive research, we conclude that there is absolutely no convention about which side you use to pass an oncoming stroller. People simply opt for the one that is more convenient.

Guess they haven't read their Boswell.

FURTHER NOTICE

More now on whether animals can appreciate music.

“Our younger son used to come home from high school every afternoon between 4:05 and 4:10,” writes Jean Cameron of Halifax. At that time, she says, the local Ottawa CBC station used to play a certain piece of music immediately after the 4 p.m. news. “Every afternoon our two German shepherds would go to the window and look for Colin coming up the road.”

When the station changed the tune, however, and Colin went away to university, the canine routine came to an end.

However, “a few years later, this bit of music was played on the radio and the dogs got up and went to the window.”

HELP WANTED

  • Robin Barfoot of Toronto wonders what happens to blood left over from blood tests.
  • “Light travels in waves,” writes Robert Findlay of Toronto. “What determines the magnitude of the wave and how is it maintained millions of light years away from its source?”
  • Why is wood turned into charcoal, and when did this practice begin? Rory Fonseca of Winnipeg wants to know.

Let's hear from you: If you have the answer to one of these questions (or a question of your own) send an e-mail to wisdom@globeandmail.com. Please include your location and a daytime phone number.

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular