So this happened: I was walking down Commercial Drive one night this week, umbrella engaged, during a fairly heavy bout of rain. I was headed north, on the east side of the street passing the Il Mercato building.
Two people approached me on my right, close to the curb. So I moved left to let them pass. That meant stepping under an awning – with my umbrella still over my head and leaving them in the rain.
Dude One says, "Thanks for keeping us dry, man!" Dude Two says, "Yeah."
Now until that moment, my umbrella etiquette had been a deep source of personal pride. And as I continued on, muttering to myself all of the snappy comebacks that came to me far too late, I thought, "Wait a minute, what did I do wrong?"
They weren't walking under the awning in the first place. Since I have an umbrella I have no problem yielding the awning to the un-brella'd. But I'm not going to move further right onto the road and into oncoming traffic.
But after a week of mostly rain – much of it umbrella-worthy – I'm wondering whether we don't all need a refresher in umbrella etiquette.
The first thing you need to ask yourself is this: Do I need an umbrella at all? Umbrellas are cumbersome and stupid and ugly. You don't want to use one unless you absolutely have to. Look out the window. Is the rain bouncing off the street forming tiny perfect crowns? If the answer is yes, then it's okay to use an umbrella. Anything less – pull on your Gore-Tex and carry on.
If you've made the decision that an umbrella is necessary, choose a small one. You're not covering a restaurant patio here. Walk down the street with a golf umbrella and you deserve to be punched. Anything bigger than one metre is excessive.
The only acceptable colour for an umbrella is black. On days when rain is in the forecast but it's not actually raining, choose a collapsible model. If you don't own an umbrella, go to a lost and found and ask for The Black Umbrella with the Black Handle. When you are presented with a selection of black umbrellas, choose the one that looks most expensive. This is not stealing. There are more lost umbrellas than there are people in Vancouver. Everyone has lost one and it all works out.
When walking with an umbrella, my usual rule of "Keep Right" does not apply since doing so would put you under the leaky and inconsistent awnings protecting the umbrellaless. You are instead obliged to walk on the left, as close to the curb as possible and exposed to the rain. This may mean walking between the roadway and street trees, parking meters, bus benches, bike racks and various other obstacles. This may be inconvenient and potentially hazardous, but you're the one who decided to carry the stupid umbrella.
When approaching another person carrying an umbrella, you must determine whether you are going to go up or down. If the umbrella of the approaching person appears to be higher than yours, bring yours down. The opposite is true if you determine their umbrella is lower than yours. When you make the decision to go either up or down make your intentions known by making eye contact and yelling as loudly as you can, "Goin' up over here!" As you pass, it is also a courtesy to tip your umbrella slightly away from the person you are passing.
If your umbrellas accidentally make contact say to the person as you pass, "Look, we're kissing!" This is not at all creepy.
If you are passing under construction hoarding, you are obliged to collapse your umbrella and bring it to your side even if there is a steady cascade of rainwater pouring through the gaps in the shoddily-constructed plywood tunnel. Suck it up.
When entering a SkyTrain station or boarding a bus, collapse and shake off your umbrella before you enter. Remove as much moisture as possible by opening and closing the umbrella quickly and forcefully 100 times. The bus driver will be happy to wait while you do this.
If your umbrella is in poor repair with broken stretchers or if the metal ribs become detached from the canopy and are poking out threatening, discard it. It is a hazard to you and the people around you. Place it into trash receptacle in a way that tells the story of your frustration and disappointment to all passersby long after you have left the scene.
Go back to the lost and found and ask for The Black Umbrella with the Black Handle.
Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.