February 28, 2009

Umbrella Etiquette 101

A Canadian stereotype is that we love to talk about the weather. I’m not interested in disputing this – in fact, I’m pretty sure it’s true. So true that Environment Canada’s EnviroZine, says:

If the weather never changed, what on earth would Canadians talk about? Everyone talks about the weather everyday and everywhere. 95% of Canadians listen to a daily weather forecast! The weather is an integral part of our lives. It influences our activities and our moods. Sometimes gentle, sometimes ferocious, the weather is the easy scapegoat for many of life’s ills from the price of broccoli to a sudden migraine to high heating bills.

In Vancouver we don’t discuss the weather, we talk about the rain. We have as many words for rain as the Inuit have for snow (okay that’s an urban legend, but you get my point). It pretty much rains non-stop from October to March. In fact, it rains enough to warrant stores that sell only umbrellas. And there isn’t just 1 or 2 of these stores. There are 9 of them. Selling nothing but umbrellas.

An umbrella in this part of the world is usually a hand-held portable device that is made of a waterproof material designed to protect against precipitation. But an umbrella, opting for one of its colloquial names can also be a fair weather friend.

Parasol – What a pretty and well mannered word -- paints a picture of a southern plantation, large hoop skirts and mint juleps on the expansive veranda. Taking a stroll through town on a glorious summer day under our parasols, we avert our gaze from young Clay hanging half naked from the weeping willow’s branches – our parasol protecting both our honour (damned impure thoughts) and our fair complexions. Wouldn’t want people thinking we were anything but the gentry we so long to be – no tanned and freckled faces for us. No siree.

Brolly – Right up there with all those adorable Britishisms like bangers and mash, bollocks and my personal favourite, bubble and squeak. Many a dapper Englishman has been seen strolling through Charing Cross, brolly in hand, arm swinging in a jaunty manner – rain or shine. And isn’t a brolly just the thing to make a drab and dreary day a little brighter?

Bumbershoot (???) – Apparently someone somewhere in the United States of American thought this an appropriate term of endearment, this portmanteau of umbrella and parachute. And while it conjures an odd image of a red necked man wearing suspenders sucking on a blade of grass it has taken its place in the vernacular of the American Northwest as being a pretty happening annual international music festival. Albeit one that gets rained on frequently (though no one seems to notice).

Parapluie – The most obvious of obvious – “para” means “to ward off” and “pluie” means “rain” yet put it together and say it aloud it is a thing of beauty. It is light and golden, a term of endearment mon petit chou. You want to take it out and dance with it like Gene Kelly – throw it up in the air and catch it in your loving arms (I don’t actually recommend this. It’s right up there with running with scissors).

But what’s in a name. That which we call an umbrella by any other name would be just as annoying when used incorrectly and with reckless abandon. Which brings me to umbrella etiquette.

I am not alone in believing that there is a need for life skills to be taught in our schools. Personal finances (the proper way to use credit may have saved the American economy), laundry care (separate the colours from the whites, but what about the reds from the greens and should you ever put a bra in the dryer?), manners (it’s not a sign of weakness to hold the door open for the person behind you, to give your seat on the bus to the elderly or pregnant – in fact not to do so is just, well, rude), how to make scrambled eggs (you do not let them sit in the pan as if you were making an omelette and once done chop them up into scrambled-like pieces – the word scrambled means to prepare by stirring during frying). And the proper use of umbrellas. But seeing as our education system is underfunded these important skills are being left untaught. So allow me to offer some rules regarding the umbrella.

Some Rules for Proper Umbrella Usage

1. Don’t walk under an awning with your umbrella up, and expect me to get out of your way. I didn’t bring my umbrella and am walking under the awning to keep from getting completely soaked (I try to live in a world of perpetual sunshine). If your umbrella is so fragile that it can’t withstand the rain I can provide you with a list of nine reputable umbrella stores in the Metro Vancouver area.

2. Don’t hang on to the overhead bar on the bus with your umbrella dangling from you wrist by its little strap. If it has been raining your umbrella is wet – it drips on the people sitting in the seats (and they don’t deserve to be dripped on unless you are elderly or pregnant and they haven’t given you their seat). If it hasn’t been raining – go ahead – treat yourself to a Tiffany bracelet instead. Much more elegant.

3. Don’t steal umbrellas out of the umbrella stands at the entrance of stores – go buy one like the rest of us (again, if you need the store locations…).

4. Don’t use one of those huge golf umbrellas unless you are actually on a golf course (this does not apply if there are 6 of you underneath it, but if so see rule #1).

5. Don’t shake the water off before a) checking to make sure you are not showering someone who is patiently waiting for you to open the door (and of course hold it open for them because you have good manners) and b) getting onto the bus (we have all put our umbrellas down and are waiting for you – we are getting wet).

6. Don’t carry it in your hand, swinging it in a jaunty manner. We aren’t in bloody London after all. The sidewalks are crowded, you make it difficult to avoid being stabbed and you just annoy people by making them dodge the tip as you barrel ahead oblivious to any other living soul.

7. Our sidewalks are crowded with people coming and going. Some of these people are short, others tall (this is what makes Vancouver such an interesting place -- diversity). If you are tall and in the passing lane on the sidewalk (yes, here we walk on the right and pass on the left – just like driving) common courtesy dictates that you raise your umbrella over the umbrellas of those less vertically endowed. You do not charge through the throngs, gashing and slashing as you go, knocking hapless umbrellas askew.

8. Don’t use your umbrella as body armour. Where do you think you are? The fields of Scotland with William Wallace in the 1200s? No one is shooting thousands of tiny arrows at you.

9. Do offer protection to some poor soul standing next to you at a red light. They may not accept but you will both feel better for the offer.

Everyone I talk to shares the belief that there is a common disregard for proper umbrella etiquette on our sidewalks. Just who are these culprits? I’m sure that you reading this would agree, it isn’t you (you have never been lost in thought and unconsciously perpetrated one of the above offenses). But in the off chance that you do know someone who is lacking in manners, please feel free to pass along the above rules. Maybe take them out to a bar, hold the door open for them, pull out their chair and say it over a drink -- with an umbrella in it.


Dan Johnson said...

Good one. I was going to do an umbrella etiquette one as well but I never got around to it. I agree with everything on your list except I'm one of those bozos that use the golf umbrella, I walk lots. I am rethinking, however, as it's a little heavy. It's good because it has that flap that allows the wind to pass through so it doesn't blow inside out.

It always amazes me as much as it rains here how crappy most peoples umbrellas are-- although quality did seem to get a little better this year...

Unknown said...

I could not resist commenting. Well written! gmail sign in