Along some of the streets in my neighbourhood, the footpaths are bordered by grass on either side.* Sometimes this grass gets a bit overgrown, and, at some parts, there isn’t enough space for two people to comfortably walk past each other without someone walking on the grass a little (especially if everyone is carrying bags of groceries, shopping or other items).
Often, without really thinking about it, I step onto the grass to allow the other person passage along the footpath. I’m usually wearing sneakers, and I guess I move pretty quickly, so I suppose it’s not a big deal for me to walk on the grass, and I probably just step aside faster than the other person (not much point in us both stepping aside onto the grass).
However, some time ago, I did go through a brief phase of wondering why I was always the one who stepped aside. There were even multiple incidents where I’d be walking past two or more people going the opposite way, and instead of any of them moving into single file so that everyone (including me) could continue walking along the footpath, I had to step aside because they clearly weren’t moving.
Ok, it didn’t really inconvenience or trouble me that much, but it bothered me on principle. I don’t know if this is some kind of inferiority complex at work here, but in this brief phase of discontent at sidewalk etiquette, I stopped moving aside for other people. This was a long time ago, and I don’t really remember how often I did this or what happened because of it, but I vaguely remember some people still being oblivious, and some people actually stepping aside for me.
Whatever the case was, I don’t think it really changed how I felt, so I went back to walking onto the grass so other people could stay on the footpath. Life continued like it always did.
But then, the other day, as I walked down the street, I passed a woman walking in the opposite direction, and I moved aside onto the grass like I usually do, and she thanked me. She actually thanked me. That has never happened before. I was so surprised by her politeness that I don’t think I responded beyond nodding and smiling back at her.
However, I wasn’t so stunned that I didn’t make some observations: There was actually a small tree on her side, so realistically she probably couldn’t have stepped off the path and continued to walk. She was also wearing thongs (“flip flops”), whereas I was wearing sneakers, so it was definitely easier for me to move aside. Furthermore, she was carrying at least one shopping bag, and looked like she’d just finished work, so possibly she was tired, and maybe that’s why she appreciated that small kindness.
As I continued on my way, I kept thinking about this, and marvelling at how uncommon it is to thank people for simple courtesies. But then I thought of all the cyclists who thank pedestrians for moving aside for them (people are allowed to cycle on footpaths here). Not all cyclists do it, but I’d like to think there are a lot who do. At least, when I cycle, I make a point of thanking pedestrians for moving aside for me.
It’s an unfortunate thing when one aggressive/irritable/arrogant cyclist gives all cyclists a bad name. I’ve heard a lot of people (particularly motorists) complain about cyclists, and I’ve seen cyclists disobeying road rules, so I know it happens. But there are also a lot of cyclists who do the right thing, and I guess, when it comes to gratitude and expressing thanks, they do ok.
I wonder if the woman who thanked me was also a cyclist, and maybe she is just so used to thanking pedestrians when she cycles that she also thanks them when she’s walking.
* I Googled the term “nature strip” and apparently this is an Australian term, so I don’t know if other people use this.