Whether you're going to the movies, the opera, or a school play, there are a few situations that can cause people to (literally!) stumble. Here's how to know when to remain seated, when stand to let others into your row, and whether men or women should sit closest to the aisle:
How To Let Others By in Your Row
Chances are that after you're seated, others will arrive that need to get past you in your row. At any theatre performance you'll see some people stand and others remain seated to let other patrons pass by. So which is correct?
If the performance has not yet started, the polite choice is to stand up when others need to get down your row. By standing up, the seat will fold in, and the other guest will have more room to get by. It's also more comfortable to pass by someone in close proximity when both parties are standing, rather than having one person at derriere-level.
Especially if you're seated on the end of a row, this means you shouldn’t get too comfortable in your seat until everyone in your row arrives. Situate your purse, coat, program, and other belongings so that you can easily pop up when needed. Don't worry if everyone else in your row stays seated—not many people know this tenet, but you'll be setting a great example for others.
There are two exceptions to this etiquette adage: One is if the performance or film has already started. In that case, remain seated as someone passes, moving your knees over to the side to give them more room. If you have a drink or purse, the most considerate thing to do is to try to keep it under your seat so that others won't trip or knock your soda over when trying to get by in a dark movie theatre.
The other exception is if the theatre doesn't have chairs that fold in. If standing up will actually cause there to be less room in the row to let others by, then remain seated and simply move your knees to one side.
When To Show Your Backside
If you're the one who's going to be in the middle of a row, where you have to walk past people to get to your seat, face toward the stage with your back to those already seated as you go down the row. It may seem counterintuitive to turn your backside to people, but if you slip, you can steady yourself on the seat in front of you. Hopefully the other patrons will stand up to let you pass, but if they don't and you do happen to stumble, it's much better to fall seated in someone’s lap than spread eagle all over them!
As you pass the people who let you by, simply say "thank you." There's no reason to utter a string of "excuse me's" when going down the row, since walking to your seat is nothing that you need to be excused for. The exception is if someone is seated on the aisle of your row: Saying "excuse me" will let them know you're seated on that row and need to get by.
Ladies Don't Always Go First!
"Ladies first" applies in most situations, but one notable exception is at the theatre. If there is no usher, the man should walk down the aisle first, so that he can find the couple's seats. After he arrives at the correct row, he steps aside, to let the woman enter the row before him. The rule of thumb is that the man always sits closest to the aisle, so the woman enters the row first.
If two couples attend a performance together, tradition says that the two women should sit together, in between their dates. In that case, one man would enter the row first, then his date, then the other woman, followed by her date. That way, both men are sitting closest to the aisle (and can jump up to protect the women, if needed!).
If an usher leads you to your seats, then the woman should walk directly behind the usher, followed by the man. The usher will step aside when arriving at the correct row, and the woman should enter it first.
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