Metro Morning

A guide to the reserved, hyper-efficient, sometimes passive-aggressive world of Toronto etiquette

Spacing magazine’s Toronto Public Etiquette Guide parses everything from door holding to transit seats - and delves into Toronto's occasionally uptight psyche.

Spacing magazine’s Toronto Public Etiquette Guide parses everything from door holding to transit seats

As Toronto gets more crowded, etiquette becomes more important, says Toronto etiquette guide author Dylan Reid. (John Rieti/CBC)

People in Toronto are often too reserved to talk to each other out of the blue, prefer to express displeasure at another's behaviour with a glare, and consider efficiency when moving around the city to be paramount. 

Those are just a few of the insights gathered in a new guide from Toronto's Spacing magazine that teases out the complex, often rigid protocol of public life in Toronto.

Written by Spacing editor Dylan Reid, the Toronto Public Etiquette Guide is peppered with submissions from Torontonians imploring each other to ride the escalator properly and place mittens found in the snow safely on fence posts.

Taken together, it paints a humbling picture of the Toronto psyche, which Reid puts bluntly in the book's first chapter.

"Toronto is not a laid-back city, and it shows," he writes.

"The prime directive for anyone in Toronto could be 'don't get in other people's way,'" he goes on. 

Why we love efficiency

Not getting in each other's way was the theme of many of the etiquette submissions Reid received. 

"Cyclists, form an orderly queue at traffic lights," wrote one person in a submission. "No sneaking up to the pole position, even if there's plenty of room."

It also extends to getting around on foot.

"Don't walk four-wide on the sidewalks," wrote another. "Toronto sidewalks are typically quite narrow."

Efficiency even crops up in Torontonian social interactions.

"In my neighbourhood it is the convention for pedestrians to wish each other 'good morning' on weekends. You could meet the same person on the weekday morning and not say anything," read one submission.

Though she confessed to being confused at first, the author of the submission now admits to liking the clear-cut system. 

Unspoken signals from fellow riders are important to pay attention to, writes Reid. Getting a death glare? Check that you aren't blocking anyone. (CBC)

Politeness over friendliness

It's politeness, not friendliness, that Torontonians crave while in public, writes Reid.

Politeness, he said, creates a "certain sense of formality and distance, of not getting too close, that Torontonians appreciate."

That's why we like to hold open doors for each other, said one submission: it's a way of being nice to each other without talking.

"The essential verbal lubricants of life in Toronto are 'sorry' and 'excuse me,'" Reid writes, explaining that each can contain a myriad of meanings.

Add in "thank you," and you're just about ready to mingle in the city.

"Torontonians like to say 'thank you' or 'thanks' for any kind of minor assistance or transaction," reads the book. "It's a way of communicating without having to get personal."

Headed for a day at the park? Toronto etiquette dictates that you be thoughtful about noise, drinking, litter, dogs, and correctly sharing space. Have fun. (Trinity Bellwoods Block Party 2015/Facebook)

The silver lining 

In an interview on CBC Radio's Metro Morning, Reid suggested that the Torontonian's love of clear social rules is increasingly understandable, given how our city is changing.

"Toronto is getting more and more crowded … but our public spaces aren't expanding to meet that," he said. 

Reid said while all these unspoken rules allow the city to run smoothly, it doesn't mean Toronto is the town that fun forgot. 

Though reserve reigns in general, "Torontonians will take advantage of any kind of slight connection to engage briefly," writes Reid, with people jumping at the chance to interact with the people around them when the situation permits. 

The guide also contains plenty of tidbits for Toronto to be proud of: in general, Reid writes, life hums along free of conflict or confrontation, allowing "people from a wide variety of backgrounds to live comfortably together. 

"At its best, politeness and efficiency lay the groundwork so that Toronto's diversity, bustle, and growth can combine together in a positive reaction, one that releases energy, creativity, and enthusiasm," he writes, adding that he hopes his book can release a bit more of that positive Toronto energy. 

With files from Metro Morning


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?