Squeezing by: What's the etiquette?

June 29, 2011

We’ve all been there. You’ve just taken your seat in a crowded theater and arranged yourself and your belongings when someone comes along and lays siege to your comfortable little fiefdom. I’m talking about the late- (or not-so-late—just after you) comers trying to access their seats in the middle of the row. Or maybe you’re the late one. It happens.

Despite sitting in theaters for many years now, I’ve never been able to figure out the least obnoxious way to squeeze by. Or let someone else squeeze by. Do you remain seated, vainly attempting to make your legs shorter? Or stand up, thereby dumping your program on the floor, where it flies apart and scoots into the next row?

When squeezing, do you turn your back to the seated—or, worse, standing—party, perhaps brushing the heads of those sitting in front of you, possibly knocking off a hairpiece? Should you stick with doggie-style or go with the missionary position, ie, face-to-face? As a rule, both are objectionable with total strangers (just don’t look into their eyes). Yet few audience members are skinny enough to stroll to their seats, presenting a profile view.

The obstacle course of scrambling over other people’s legs and personal effects isn’t really anybody’s fault. Still, it’s hard not to feel peeved when squeezing by the long limbs and huge feet of the guy built like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (he always seems to be seated in front of me, too). And what about the lady who booby-traps you with the bag not placed under her seat? That would be me, at least when I forget.

Sometimes the polite little dances that theatergoers perform in these situations are better than the show. But best would be the all-out pratfall or hand-to-hand combat. I’m still waiting.