Showing Respect in Passing

Drawing of a Victorian man tipping his hat.
Editor’s note: As an etiquette guide, this article is based on opinion. It’s goal is to create a standard.

These days we tend to walk through the streets with our heads down, afraid to interact with anybody. Why? It’s probably because we don’t know how to show the proper respect in momentary interactions and can’t expect to get it in return. There’s not much you can do about the latter, but this article should fix the former. 

The most important rule is to always give strangers the benefit of the doubt. Only an infinitesimal number of people are dangerous, although far more aren’t respectable. Of course, this doesn’t give much practical guidance but it’s a good starting point. 

You also can’t assume your business is more important than anyone else’s. You don’t know what they’re doing. For all you know, they’re on their way to present the perfect solution to crime, although that’s pretty unlikely. Don’t expect others to wait unnecessarily for you or to yield the right of way to you for no reason. 

If someone speaks to you, reply respectfully but don’t allow idle conversation with strangers to interfere with anyone’s business. If someone makes a request if you that only requires a brief pause then it’s advisable to oblige them, and it’s never a bad idea to give someone genuine help. Although you shouldn’t help people if it’s just going to make you feel good, so don’t give money to panhandlers since it’s most likely to be used to support a drug habit or a avoid contributing to society. 

If you make eye contact with someone in public then it’s extremely disrespectful to not acknowledge them. A nod of the head to a fellow man, a quick smile to a lady, or a wave is adequate, but if you’re wearing a hat you have better options. Touch the brim to acknowledge a fellow man or momentarily lift the hat to acknowledge a lady. If one of you is in the military or some other uniformed civil service then a salute may be appropriate, depending on local customs. 

Your speech around others must always be respectful, free of crude language and topics. Also, try to speak in the local language so people know your words aren’t disrespectful, and keep private topics in private. If you feel the need to play music then it needs to be inaudible or away from where others are likely to be, unless you’re busking. 

Those are all the rules that come to my mind for being respectful in superficial interactions. If you have recommended rules of your own or feel you can elaborate on mine, leave a comment. 


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