It’s needed on a daily basis, but I don’t ever remember my parents or any of my teachers explaining to me proper etiquette on what to do when I walk towards people passing in the opposite direction. I’ve grown up and developed my own habits but there is nothing to validate that I am right or wrong. In the street, we all pass by strangers. Sometimes we look at them and sometimes we don’t. It all depends on the situation, the vibe, and what the person looks like.
Things get worse if you pass the same co-worker twice within a short period of time. Do you say anything? Hello a second time certainly doesn’t make sense. Then there’s the long hallway situation. You notice that you know a person walking the other way from a distance of 50 feet (unless you need a new prescription for your corrective lenses,) and you have to figure out where you’re going to look until you get close to perhaps 10 feet away to react. Is that the right distance? Who knows? With members of the opposite sex that might also be single and around the same age, the other person might think that a “hello” means you’re trying to pick them up. And that only complicates matters.
It’s amazing that we don’t have rules of etiquette for this all figured out. We do have simple rules when you meet somebody for the first time at a business meeting. You shake their hand, look them in the eye and introduce yourself. Driving in a car and passing others by makes life easier. You have to pay attention to the road so you don’t have to look at them and they can’t hear you so you don’t have to think about what to say. Additionally, you pass by the other car at a minimum of 50 miles per hour of combined passing speed so the lack of time keeps this from being an issue anyway. This is yet another reason why I love cars and driving.
I propose the following rules of etiquette. When you walk by somebody at work that you recognize but don’t know well, say hi or hello (no matter how bad of a mood you’re in) and only if it’s the first time for the day. If you know them by name, you say something like “Hey Charlie,” again, only if it’s the first time for the day. For the second or subsequent times, just look them in the eye and nod your head. For long hallway situation, look at the ground until 10 feet of distance. If you pass by a stranger, you can do whatever you want but if you make eye contact, a smile and a “hi” seem about right.
There you go. I’ve just solved one of life’s minor etiquette annoyances… at least for the USA.