A Few Ground Rules for Humans in Public Spaces

by Janelle Hanchett

I’m traveling for a couple of weeks to do book events and I have decided that there are a few things humans simply should not do under any circumstances. How am I equipped to make this determination?

I’m not. I just tend to hate people.

Okay, fine, I don’t hate people. I am deeply disappointed by large groups of them. Or small groups, really.

And I don’t experience them too often. You know, out in the wild.

I live in a small-ish town where I think I know 2/3 of the population. My life is largely driving kids around in circles and looking at laundry. When I go to work, I sit in an office alone, staring at a screen, my only human contact being with other people in the building as they pass by, and the occasional visitor who can’t figure out how to get to the law firm on the third floor. (Take the elevator, guys.)

I just wish there were a few motherfucking GROUND RULES.

Like as a whole, we agree not to do certain things. Maybe we could sign a contract called We Hereby Agree Not to Be Dicks in Public.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. We will brush our teeth.
  2. We will wear shoes in airports. Actually always. I get that you’re so spiritual you need “constant grounding with the earth against your skin,” but you’re fucking gross and definitely walking in urine.
  3. We won’t talk loudly on our cell phones about our trips to Nepal because everybody  knows we’re purposely speaking loudly to humble-brag about our financial status (e.g. “I can afford a trip to Nepal”). Nobody cares, Karen.  
  4. We won’t gather in large groups in walkways, forcing every other human to walk around us simply because we feel like standing right here, okay, not 2 feet to the left. Or the right. RIGHT FUCKING HERE.
  5. We will not be mean to customer service people. We will remember that they have to deal with Karen all day.
  6. We won’t be Loud Funny White guy on the plane “giving everyone a hard time” because somebody, at some point in his life, convinced him he was adorable.
  7. We won’t eat crunchy food in public. That includes, but is not limited to: apples, corn nuts, chips, ice, nuts, and pretzels.
  8. Maybe ignore number 7. That’s probably just me being a dick.
  9. When all the other seats are full, we will not put our purses or luggage on the seat next to us, because we realize that inanimate objects are less important than even Karen, who needs a place to sit to talk about her trip to Nepal. (Life is trash.)
  10. We won’t be the Lyft driver who tells a woman in the backseat clearly not interested in speaking that she “looks like a dirty margarita type of girl.” That way, she won’t have to respond, “I’m a 39-year-old woman and don’t drink, but when I did, it was bottom-shelf whiskey, so, fail?”
  11. We won’t let our kids jump on hotel beds and squeal at 5am. Look, I have annoying ass kids too, and my parenting is subpar, but there’s no excuse for that shit. 
  12. We won’t be the person scowling at the overwrought mother frantically trying to calm her baby during the plane landing.
  13. We won’t eat onion sandwiches or potent vinaigrette-covered salads or anything actually with onions in small spaces.
  14. Maybe ignore that last one too. I have a bit of a “situation” with public consumption of food and the sounds and smells it produces. 

You know who we will be? The dude I saw in Portland wearing short striped shorts, hiking boots, a muscle tee, handlebar mustache, dark-rimmed spectacles and a mesh cap.

He was cool.

Also all the strangers at the airport who laughed when I made eye-contact with them and mouthed “I’m going to kill him” in reference to the over-zealous dude sitting RIGHT NEXT TO ME YELLING into his cell phone with his knees apart so they almost touched mine.

And the lady on the plane who asked “Are you alright?” while I sat writhing in my seat because of back pain, then told me to “walk the aisles for a few minutes even though the seatbelt light was on because whataretheygonnado kick you out?”

Look for the helpers out in the wild, folks.




Perhaps you haven’t heard.

You can buy it at any of the places below.

Also, as a side note, let me tell you how struck I am by the responses from readers so far. Holy shit. Thank you for the messages, emails, comments, posts. I can’t respond to them all, but I read every single one and am blown away.

  • Liz Higgins

    Nope. Not a dick. #7 and #13 are right on.

  • Liz

    #7 and #13 are spot-on. They deserve a place on this list.

  • Jen

    Or the even worse version of number 4: standing at the top/bottom of the escalator. Am I supposed to jog in place while you decide what you’re doing with your life?

    • Denise

      This made me belly laugh (and scared my dog a little). I hope you don’t mind if I say that out loud the next time I’m at a people mover/escalator.

  • Tamara

    Agree with the ladies above. Google “misophonia”… it’s a thing. And I am afflicted too.

  • Ruth

    Endeavouring not to be a dick in sunny, sunny London today and just finished your book on the train home. Awesome book Janelle. I’ve seen some of your talks and read your blog for a few years now but that was next level, reach down into the depths and hoik it all out wondrous. Thank you for all of it, I’m glad you’re here too.

  • Tracy

    This was great from start to finish.

  • Denise

    I am one of those people who loves people (also annoying, I GET IT, I’ve been told no one likes that) but nothing makes me people-angry like travelling. I cannot help myself but passively-aggressively saying “There’s no one else in the universe!” while wheeling behind someone who has suddenly decided to stop moving forward. Or the people walking 4-wide with their travel companions. Or the people who finally figure out they need to get travel documents out in the TSA line. Get it together, Karen, you are causing a bottleneck.

  • Amanda

    Um big yes and thank you to 7 and 13 May I please add for the love of GAWd will you please refrain from LOUDLY CHEWING OR CRACKING GUM?!?!!
    It makes me want to never want to venture out of my home again. And why?!?!! Why do they do this?!?!! So rude!!!
    I mean really though.

  • Molly

    Add hard boiled eggs to #7. No stinky food in shared spaces. Any chance you are touring on the East coast?

  • Victoria

    Love it, these are all true.

  • Dorothy

    #11. Two toddlers in London with jet lag. Wide awake at 3 am. For the sake of our airbnb rating we decided to go for a night walk… Pretty sure we made more noise than a roving pack of drunk football fans, but hopefully the locals are used to that sort of thing.

  • Shannon

    I can get behind all of these except the shoe one. I hate shoes. Like really hate them. I guess I get that from my Mom. Any time I can go without shoes, I will. #barefootisbetter ????

  • Joelle

    LOVE! All of this is true! Please, can the rest of the human population read this??!

  • Jodi

    I just finished your book, Janelle – while here at work saving lives and stamping out disease! I read… a lot… and your book is, hands down, one of my very favorites. I am glad I have an office door I can close so I could cry through the last 1/3 of the book. You’re a terrific writer and an even better human being and I admire your humor, courage, and fucking language skills! Best of luck in your book sales. I’ll do my part to promote it among my friends, acquaintences, patients, and assorted other random people!

  • Cath Gillespie

    “Helpers in the wild”. You have the most wonderful way with words.

  • Desiree

    I work in customer service and I am so happy you put us on the list. I thought I hated people before. I HATE them even more now! Please be nice to the first person you talk to when you call a business we are usually just there to direct you to someone who can help. We can not control if they answer the phone or not. Yes, usually they are the only people who can help. I am sorry you are not getting the answer you want. But, please do not be so mean to us. The messengers.

  • Alexa Hoi

    Omg I agree with literally everything you said!! Apart from number 12 maybe, I cant stand the sound of crying/loud kids and will definitely glare at any parents who are near them.

    If I see the parents are trying their best to calm the children, I’ll still get annoyed because the kids are still making noise but I will try and at least have some sympathy for the parents who are trying their best to deal with grumpy children.

    There really SHOULD be a universal code for behaving in public…too many idiots around these days and it just irritates me especially woth number 4!! I hate groups of people who just decide to stop IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING STREET forcing others behind them to suddenly walk around them as if they own the street