On Your Left… Right?

“On your left!” a voice rang out from behind as we were crossing the wooden bridge that connects Nicollet Island to St. Anthony Main.

I quickly steered Little L’s stroller as close as I could get to the bridge support to the left of us—

That’s right. Well, no, that’s left. I went left.

Four runners – the serious kind with neon green spandex and masks that molded to their noses – dodged between Little L and I on the left and Axel, who had expertly jumped to the right.

“Sorry!” I exclaimed, still a little frightened.

“Sorry!” a runner turned back and said. “We just didn’t want to scare you.”

This was taken the next day – not the same speed or size of group or color of spandex. But you get the gist.

“Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!” A Chorus of Minnesota Nice – theirs and mine- ensued as they left us in the January ice.

Axel laughed. “They said, ‘on the left.’ They wouldn’t believe you’re an elementary teacher who couldn’t figure out left and right.”

“Well, actually,” I jumped to my own defense. “I heard ‘left,’ so I jumped left. I didn’t have time to think that if they’re on the left then I need to go to the right.”

If they had said, “On your left in 30 seconds,” I probably would have had the necessary time to self-correct.

“So would you rather that they said, ‘move right?'” Axel asked.

“I mean, it would be clearer.”

Clearer, yes, like the January morning. But friendlier – not so much.

I don’t anticipate that Minnesotans will change their practice anytime soon, but it does raise a question about etiquette versus utility. And it makes me wonder – no, it makes me sure – that there must be places in the world where people tell you where to move in order to avoid this awkward situation.

But are they nice?

And what is it I say, you’re wondering. Sometimes when I’m walking, I pass people. I either just sneak around them or hover awkwardly behind them until there’s a break to get around. I don’t notify them that I, in fact, am walking faster than them. On a city street, you can usually take advantage of a stoplight as an opportunity to overtake a slower pedestrian as you cross at the crosswalk – they tend to be wide.

Also, when it’s a male-female pair walking slower than me smack in the middle of the sidewalk, I have noticed the woman often asks her friend/coworker/partner/relative to move over so I can get by. Especially when I’m pushing Little L in the stroller. This is not empirical research; it is simply observational and I haven’t even tracked my findings.

Just saying, though.

And when I jog? My slow jog barely warrants passing a walker. The last time I passed another jogger was – well, never. So if I need to pass a walker, I don’t usually say anything, unless they are smack dab in the middle of the street – which, now that I think of it, Little L, Axel and I were in the situation of the four runners on the bridge.

So maybe the lesson here isn’t what you should say when you pass someone, but more that when you are on the street going along at a pace that might be slower than others, make sure you’re sharing the sidewalk and remember that the people behind you may not be as turtle-paced as you.

Remember that someone may want to pass you on the right.

Or the left.