January 23rd, 2021

Working with assumptions

By Submitted Article on August 26, 2020.

Shared public spaces such as hiking trails, elevators, restaurants and stores create opportunities for quick interactions with strangers. It’s not unusual for people to share small tidbits about their experiences, whether positive or negative. There are some who don’t mind these interactions, yet there are others who are unsure of how to react or respond. I am frequently asked what kind of behaviour is acceptable when this happens. Here is a sample of some of the most common questions that come my way.

Q: Dear Mable,

I don’t know if my question is an etiquette one or just a pet peeve, but I’d like your thoughts just the same. I keep experiencing what I call annoying-assumptions. For example, when going into a restaurant, a leaving customer will assume I’ve never been before and randomly volunteers menu recommendations or even restroom locations. Really?

I have had a similar experience on hiking trails where those returning will give directions, distances and even descriptions on the highlights up ahead, assuming I’ve never hiked the trail before. I realize that excitement can bubble over into enthusiastic sharing, but sometimes their tone is just instructive.

What is the proper etiquette for telling these assumers that I know this information already or was looking to discover things for myself?

Hope you can help.

– V

A: Dear V,

Thank you for your question. I think sometimes people think they are doing others a favour, not realizing that they are actually committing a social faux pas. I can see why you would be frustrated – because they don’t know you, the places you frequent or what your experiences are. I’m sure their gestures are coming from a good place.

As a people, when we find joy in something we usually want to share the experience with those around us; mainly our family, friends and those we meet along the way. My family and I enjoy spending time in Waterton during the summer months. During these outings we never fail to see one vehicle after another stop, with the occupants pointing in a certain direction, wordlessly communicating in a language that we have all come to understand. This mostly happens when wildlife that isn’t found in tourists’ backyards, such as bears or deer (depending on where you live), is sighted. Cameras, binoculars and phones come out as people take photos or try to make the subject matter clearer.

Etiquette is about making others comfortable and not causing unnecessary embarrassment. On your part, it would be best to simply smile and thank them. Who knows? One of these interactions may bring about some new, welcome information.

I hope this helps.


Usually, when people share unsolicited information with us about publicly used spaces, they simply want us to have a positive experience. As with everything, our aim as a community is to foster positivity with each other. Despite our personal feelings about such interactions, there is no harm in taking the few seconds of the chat to be polite and then go our separate ways. That way we can maintain a positive atmosphere and the boundaries we like to set in public settings.

Mable Stewart is a Lethbridge-based etiquette and image consultant. She can be contacted by email at helpfuletiquette@gmail.com.

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