The ups and downs of umbrella etiquette

This is a guest post by Eric Mamroth, husband to Arden Clise and regular umbrella user.

Perhaps there is no better indicator of a changing Seattle than the proliferation of … umbrellas. Big ones, small ones, cheap ones or expensively fashionable, they are seemingly everywhere now. Clearly our Seattle City Council has left yet another gaping loop hole in some spuriously crafted ordinance. Yet, I found myself one very wet day walking to a meeting at some considerable distance – too short for transit, too wet for bike-share – wearing my nylon slicker and carrying a conference-swag umbrella.

As umbrellas go, I rather like this one. Large and sturdy, it is a fulsome brolly – it brings out my inner British, the green and white logoed motif notwithstanding. And for another thing, it does a good job of keeping me dry.

  • A very capable cupped handle by which to grasp it
  • A goodly 36 inches of dryness
  • Hanging off my arm when not in use, or …
  • Hooked on a counter or other 90+ degree angel when juggling multiple items like coffee, money, or introductions

Whereupon, such use invites these observations and admonitions:

What’s with those large, capri-themed, straight handle umbrellas that could provide cover for a small dinner party – they look like an invitation to carpal tunnel syndrome if not Oz itself on a windy day.

When deploying your umbrella, you really must be mindful of its breadth and reach. Open your umbrella via the release button only when outside, or from the inside only at the last second before exiting into the wet, and do so one of two ways:

  • Below the waist with a slow steady rise to the protected position, being careful of your surroundings both sentient and otherwise
  • Outside only – Raising the arm slightly above your shoulders, and then – while looking left then right – deploy with a flick of the runner spring for an especially dramatic release

In both cases, be prepared to navigate pedestrian traffic with your newly expanded dry-dome.

You’ll want to deftly manage your personal, portable, dry-dome as you enter a building, avoiding excessive water deposit and a possible slip-hazard (and any subsequent litigation). While still outside, slightly retract it to create some slack in the canopy, and gently shake or oscillate the shaft. If there is a carpeted runner in place, gently tap the finial/ferrule of the closed brolly to shed additional moisture.

If you’re toting a portable, employ the same water shedding procedure above, then stow it in your bag or grasp in you left hand. If it has a short wrist lanyard, go ahead loop over your hand but to be careful that you can extricate the device smoothly and expediently when the time comes.

If a large umbrella with cupped handle, extend your left arm slightly and hang approximately mid-forearm. Finally, if it is a large umbrella with straight handle, return promptly to the golf course or shopping mall from whence you nicked it. (Shame on you).

And now, the crux of umbrella etiquette: walking along a city street. Did you suddenly forget you now have the presence of a very large person? Move that thing out of the way! Lift it up, move it sideways or back; you might even partially retract it to navigate a crowded walkway but please – there is no reason your umbrella should endanger my space. Absolutely none.

Walking with an umbrella is not rocket science and if you can walk and text and not get run over by a bus there is no reason under this Seattle sky you shouldn’t be able to walk along a sidewalk without endangering any and all in your path.

So please, pay attention.

When you do reach your destination, put that sucker down where it will do a minimum of damage. I recently arrived for a short meeting and stepping up to the reception desk to inquire the whereabouts of my party I left a mini waterfall along the counter’s edge. As there was no standing urn in which to place it, I left it on the floor near the door, alerting staff that I would retrieve it on my exit.

Had I been ushered to a separate room, I would have taken it with me and deposited it similarly. When handling the umbrella, remember to keep your right hand dry for those socially acceptable entries and exits.

The modern superstition about opening an umbrella indoors most likely stems from the 18th century, when umbrellas were still a relatively new invention. They were unwieldy and difficult to handle, relying on sharp metal spokes that would spring open with such force that they could injure a nearby patron. Because opening an umbrella indoors often resulted in negative consequences, this encouraged a superstition first whispered by ancient Egyptians.

Another school of thought contends that opening an umbrella indoors will upset a home’s good spirits. These unseen guardians, who are otherwise protective, will cause misfortune to rain upon your family if an umbrella is opened in their presence.

When you return to office or home – carefully, and at a low angle, deploy your umbrella and place on the floor out of the way so that it may dry out. You otherwise risk accelerated deterioration of the canopy and quite possibly a mold-hazard that could prove more injurious to your health than the afore-mentioned offended spirits.

In summary:

Do no harm – take care with that baldichino and it will take care of you. Too small and spindly is a waste of money; too big and you are liable to hurt someone besides yourself. In the best of circumstances, they all keep you relatively dryer. Worst case scenario, you actually do end up in Kansas – or at least the subject of a very viral YouTube video.

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Carole on January 13, 2018 at 7:25 pm

    Thanks Eric! Very thorough. I have rarely been jabbed by an unwary umbrella user, so that’s something to be thankful for. What does happen far too frequently is meeting an umbrella-shielded person along the sidewalk who is walking close to a building and under the canopy, yet said-umbrella-person fails to yield to those without umbrellas, and forces the naked traveler to step out from under the building canopy into the rain, while the umbrella user enjoys double-coverage. Irks me every time. Staring into their eyes seems to no avail, they remain oblivious.

  2. Arden on January 31, 2018 at 3:14 pm

    Thanks Carole. I know what you’re talking about. I guess we should add that to our list of tips.

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