Ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, I am pleased to announce that I have invented a new word—and, indeed, a new concept:
In keeping with the recent trend of eliding closely related words for the purpose of forming a new one (staycation, webinar, Brangelina, etc.), I give you… umbrelletiquette.
Actually, to be completely honest, I thought that I had invented this word, but then I Googled it just to make sure—readers always catch my mistakes. I came up with 1,540 hits. (It’s always disappointing to find out that you’re entirely unoriginal… it even has its own website!) But in the spirit of grasping at whatever vestiges of originality remain to me, I’m not going to look at any of the links until after I’m finished writing here.
In my humble (and original) opinion, umbrelletiquette is a valuable set of social skills that today is sorely lacking in the narrow streets of Cambridge (and, perhaps, a town near you). Recent and ongoing heavy rains have demonstrated that someone must educate the good people of the world about umbrelletiquette. Someone must codify its requirements, particularly some of the finer points, and bequeath them to the general populace as a gift to be set aside for… a rainy day. [Ba-dump-bump.]
I suppose it will have to be me.
Before I begin, though, let’s get one thing straight: You may think that devoting our attention to umbrelletiquette when the world has so many bigger problems is a waste of our resources and time. And, depending on how much you care about the snail darter and other locally endangered species (and let’s face it, some do), you may be right. However, if you are someone who ever a) walks, b) sits, or c) cohabits, then these umbrelletiquette tips are for you.
Tip Set the First: When walking about the streets
Whether you’re gliding down a wide avenue or wending your way through narrow lanes, you need to know what to do when two umbrellas (umbrellae?) meet in the street. If one is coming towards you from the opposite direction, look to see whose is bigger. If yours is the larger rainshade of the two, defer to the other pedestrian by raising your umbrella so that she may pass underneath. Like much of umbrelletiquette, this just makes sense. Imagine a golf umbrella attempting to pass under a small collapsible umbrella. Wet and wooly, no? Now imagine it the other way around. Success!
But why even have one pass under the other at all? Why not simply stand aside? Well, in some cases (i.e., two very large umbrellas of approximately equal size), this may be necessary. In most cases, though, this result is to be avoided. It slows down all foot traffic moving along the sidewalk, which makes some untold multiplicity of people wait outside in the rain for that much longer—a very high net cost for such a simple move.
In general, when passing, your umbrellas should observe the same rules applied at a Catholic high school dance: no bumping, no grinding, and leave enough room between you for the Holy Spirit.
In addition, do not follow someone so closely that your umbrella’s run-off drips upon his back. Umbrellas actually collect and disperse an awful lot of water, and dumping it upon another pedestrian (particularly if he is umbrellaless) is not bon ton.
Tip Set the Second: When indoors
Frankly, the old superstition about opening an umbrella indoors is the least of our worries here. What is most concerning is what one does with his umbrella after coming in from the rain. If entering a restaurant, lecture hall, or other place where many people will sit, please, for the love of all that is warm and cozy, do not set your wet umbrella on the seat next to you! I have no idea what would inspire someone to do something so shortsighted, but it happens a surprising amount. There are so many alternative locations for your wet brolly that the seat next to you should really be the last place you consider.
For example, many restaurants have a coat room complete with umbrella rack, and will offer to relieve you of your sopping umbrella the moment you walk in the door. Alternatively, rest it on the floor along the edge of your table or underneath your seat, or lean it up against the entrance side of the booth. In a lecture hall, place it under your seat if possible, or perhaps leave it in the back of the room.
In all of this, just imagine that your wet umbrella is an instrument of contagion that no one else wants to touch. Because that’s exactly what it is.
Oh—and if you’re in a library, for goodness’ sake, sheathe your gamp!
Tip Set the Third: In which we discuss cohabitation
Whether you live in a house or an apartment building, consider wisely what you do with your umbrella when you walk in the door. You may have a designated receptacle for the wretched thing (growing up, ours was a large ceramic umbrella stand), but then again, you may not. If you do not, consider whether you really want everything currently on and in your umbrella to wind up on the floor of your home. If not (spiffing choice, really), then see if there might be a neutral area (perhaps outside the door?) where it can dry off in peace. The same goes for rain boots, by the by.
Of course, you may be one of those who really enjoy scrubbing floors.
But I doubt it.
Now, what I’ve said so far applies whether you live with others or by yourself. However, an added requirement for those living in dorms and apartments is that everyone respect the Drying Umbrella Code of Kindness (DUCK). We simply cannot live in a world where neighboring residents of common halls fear the theft of umbrellas left out in the hallway to dry. Therefore, you must never, ever take (or “borrow”) someone else’s bumbershoot when you’ve forgotten your own—no matter how rainy it is, or how nicely dressed you are, or how utterly superior everyone knows you to be.
This is because the consequences of failure to comply with the DUCK are dire: everyone will move their umbrellas indoors, making for countless wet floors, numberless unhappy superintendents, and untold legions of overpaid floor waxers and repairmen—not to mention peeved family or roommates, or perhaps wet pets.
There are no doubt many more points of umbrelletiquette than those articulated here, and perhaps now I’ll go and look them up along with still more synonyms for umbrella (though I think I’ve managed to use four so far). In the meantime, wherever there are rainy skies, remember that your neighbors (and, really, the entire human race) is depending upon you to follow these simple tips.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go and inform 1,540 websites that they’ve stolen my word.