I recently started a romantic relationship with a lovely man. He is decisive, smart and worldly, practical and modern. We were strolling on the footpath. I was walking on the outer side of the curb. I mentioned that I’d heard that men are supposed to walk closest to the traffic to protect the woman from getting hit by traffic. He laughed, and said that yes that was how it was in the olden days, but today men should walk on the inside. Pedestrians were often avoiding horses and horse-drawn carriages, which had a tendancy to swerve off the road, or splash filthy water or sewage, or worse still, horse manure onto the curb, so a man’s role was definitley to protect his strolling mate. Today it’s highly unlikely for a vehicle to come off the road, and much more likely that things fall out of upper floor windows and balconies or get thrown out of shop fronts. And hence he would still be the protective one. I’m not sure if he was pulling my leg, or if he had actually been updated on the latest etiquette. But it got me thinking about how times have changed, and how etiquette needs to be updated.
So, I went on a mission to research his “facts”. Were they actually fact, fiction, or a version of both? And what is the current etiquette curbside?
Emily Post’s Etiquette states that “it used to be that a man escorting a woman on the street walked on the inside so that if waste were thrown out a window it would hit him and not her. Then when sanitation became recognized as important and people stopped tossing their waste into the street, custom changed and a man escorting a woman walked on the street side to keep her from being splashed by mud thrown up by carriage wheels or horses’ hooves. Technology has paved our streets and replaced carriages as the primary source of travel, eliminating the danger of splashing on all but rainy, slushy days, so men once again might walk on the inside, particularly at night in dangerous neighborhoods,in order to protect a woman from muggers and purse snatchers lurking in doorways.” So, he had most of it right. But, as Emily Post derives from the United States, I thought I might check out how they do it trans-Atlantic in the United Kingdom.
I discovered that in England, “In days gone by, a gentleman would walk on the outside of the pavement to protect the lady from the risks of the road and the perils of the gutter. Today, a man should still walk on the kerbside of the street. If, however, a woman naturally falls in step on the kerbside and seems comfortable with it, then it would be clumsy for him to start dodging around her to try and walk on the outside.” Deblett’s etiquette.
So, for the sake of putting this one to rest, I’d have to say, that it really doesn’t matter anymore. It’s more important that you walk side by side, as some people have a tendency to lead, or follow.