Is Etiquette Shaming a Thing?

Pamela Chan, Editorial

I’ve been taking photographs since I was ten years old. By the time I was 15, I’d saved up enough money to buy a Canon SLR. When I leave my neighbourhood area and travel farther afield, I still tend to haul out my digital SLR. At a time when most people have discovered that they like to take photographs, and camera phones are the norm, I suppose this makes someone with an SLR look rather serious.

This is what I told myself when I was yelled at while visiting a farmer’s market on Vancouver Island.

I’d never been to this well known market and was looking forward to picking up some gifts to bring back for my neighbours and friends. A visit to a Farmer’s Market is an opportunity to find unique produce and crafts.

So a Lookie Loo I was not.

Whether in Damascus, Baghdad, Manila or British Columbia, outdoor marketplaces – in public spaces I should point out – have always been a fun place for me to take photographs.

Now I get that in this era of people taking a lot of photos, it might get a bit tiresome to have someone about you taking ANOTHER photograph. This is where pen and paper come in handy. Just as you would find at the last stall by the entrance to the Great Wall, if you don’t want photographs taken near your person and your stall – put up a sign. Don’t yell “You are a RUDE person.”

That’s what happened to me. Just minutes earlier I had asked a stall keeper if I could take a photograph of her stall.  She said “yes’. In a busier area of the market, a man with an officious voice announced to all and asunder that I was a rude person for taking photos.  No signage was in clear view.  Apparently fast forwarding to loud, public shaming was a more satisfying approach.

Or should I say “etiquette shaming” because apparently this is a thing.

If you step out of line or do something that has been perceived to be rude, a person with a self-assessed higher sense of appropriateness will be happy to share his or her opinion that you have been rude.

In a recent HuffPost piece, author Caren Lissner wrote:

“Why do people feel such a compulsion to scold or shame a stranger for a supposed infraction that’s minor or none of their business? When we scold or shame, we make two assumptions:

a) The person we’re scolding is someone who routinely (rather than rarely) acts without regard for society, and
b) it’s our job to teach them how to behave so they won’t do it again. In doing this, we miss a grand opportunity to give another human being the benefit of the doubt.”

Yes – why indeed?

Lissner’s post resulted in a multitude of comments supporting the notion that a person who holds a door open should be thanked.  It’s always the way.  If someone says “I’m offended”, the common response is “oh well then.  You must be justified to feel offence.” The supporters missed Lissner’s point. The person who walked through the door replied that the person holding the door admonished her before she had even had a chance to say “thank you”.

In other words, the  person holding the door felt a judgement against this women rise up quickly. “She’s a self centered woman who doesn’t have manners and I’m going to let her know”.

“I take photographs for my personal use”, I told my etiquette shamer at the market. The fact is that very few of my photographs go onto a site I manage that has a commercial component. And they tend to be landscape and flora topics.

This wasn’t a case of a self-focussed person [IE me] hating to be reprimanded. People are free to stretch the concept of public space if they really don’t want something happening there. If an issue feels personal or if it’s one that has meaning to that person, he/she should take action to make their position clear from “the get go”.

Signage: “Please don’t smoke in this vicinity.”

Signage: “No photography, thank you.”

Have community events become so commercialized that a minor act – taking photographs for personal use at a public market – has become some kind of threat in a commercial or privacy sense.

Even if I was going to share photographs of the marketplace on Instagram, for example, wouldn’t that help to promote the market and drive potential shoppers that way? But if you don’t buy into the “word of mouth via social media” approach, again I say “get out that pen and paper and start making a sign”.

Simple and sweet. “Sorry. No photographs in this area.”  Point to sign.


There is a whole body of literature on the topic of street photography and taking photos in public spaces.  Stopping to say “may a take a photograph” each and every time is neither expected nor realistic.  It’s a standard that applied more when you are taking a photograph that focusses on one person in particular.  And by focus, I don’t mean two people kissing on a street in Paris.

Nobody yelled at me when I went shopping and took photographs at the souks in Baghdad and Damascus.  Or when I strolled around Saltspring Island when I was a teenager, with my old SLR in hand, taking photos of anything that caught my eye – including flowers at the edge of peoples’ gardens and public spaces.

Gosh darn it – I miss the good old days.


To see examples of my photography, visit the Red Bubble BC Family Facebook page or the website itself.

If you like photography, check out the photography board on the BC Family Pinterest page.

Do you feel that the increased interest in taking photographs has created a negative backlash against photographers? Have you experienced “etiquette shaming” in public that you feel was disproportionate to the circumstances, heavy handed or even inappropriate? You can comment about this posting on the Facebook page. Your contribution matters so don’t be shy!

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