Modern Etiquette: Umbrellas, backpacks and selfie sticks

(Reuters) - In a perfect world, safety and good manners run a parallel course. Yet that is not today’s reality, especially when it comes to umbrellas, backpacks and selfie sticks.

Visitors carry umbrellas past the Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden during a rain storm at the Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea Flower Show in London, Britain May 19, 2015. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

Consider the concept of private public space and you’ll get the idea. We might be in public, yet it’s important to remain cognizant of those around us. Often the people around us end up being victims of unthinking harm. Harm hurts. Few scenarios bring out the pain potential more than travel does.

Let’s take umbrellas. There is a difference between navigating a rainstorm and a medieval jousting match. I live in Seattle and have just returned from London, so I know about rain. In the spirit of preventing mishaps, here are some umbrella etiquette tips:

1. Carry umbrellas close to the body, point down, when they are closed.

2. When unfurling an umbrella, be sure to look in all directions to avoid spearing anyone with its points or spokes.3.

3. Hold an opened umbrella low or high enough so you don’t block anyone’s vision or poke someone in the eye. When passing, someone needs to raise the umbrella or move it aside. The polite person is the one to do this. Contentious challenges serve nobody.

4. When two people are sharing an umbrella, let the taller person wield it. Worry less about chivalry in deference to visibility, safety and comfort.

5. Shake out the umbrella (being careful not to drench anyone nearby) before you enter a building. Floor puddles are messy and potentially dangerous.

6. Keep umbrellas furled when not in use. Unfurled, they easily snag garments, as well as get tangled in coats in the closet.

Next, let’s consider backpacks. They can make a big impression -- not to mention a painful one -- if they whack you on the back of the head or shoulder.

This happens most often on public transportation, again, a private-public space scenario. As useful as they are by distributing weight relatively evenly and leaving our hands free, they take up a lot of space nonetheless. Space behind us and therefore out of sight. I don’t own a backpack, yet I do share some safety observations:

1. Carry the backpack by its handle when on a bus, underground, and boarding a plane. That will prevent someone’s head from being smashed. It also will go a long way to diminish nasty thoughts and comments about your lack of consideration. Travel is potentially unpleasant enough; why make it more so?

2. Put your backpack between your legs on the ground when on a bus or underground. That way you can keep an eye on your possessions as well as limit inconvenience to others.

I also do not own a selfie stick, yet I have been punished by one recently, when an enthusiastic couple decided to photograph themselves in front of Marble Arch. Getting whacked in the head is not fun.

Keep in mind that:

1. Selfie sticks are least intrusive when hordes of other people are not traversing the same terrain. Look around, and even ask oncoming individuals if they mind the momentary inconvenience. Chances are they will not mind, and you will get a better picture in the long run.

2. Selfie sticks can do damage to property as well as people. Be careful to consider the foreground as well as the background of what you are shooting.

If you follow these simple guidelines, your umbrella, your backpack, your selfie stick and you should be welcome wherever you go.

(Mary M. Mitchell has written several books on the subject of etiquette, now in 11 languages, most recently “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Modern Manners Fast Track” and “Woofs to the Wise”. She is the founder of executive training consultancy The Mitchell Organization ( The opinions expressed are her own.)

Editing by Michael Roddy