A Guide to L.A. Etiquette in 6 Public Spaces

Los Angeles can be a daunting city. Even locals don't know many of the basic unwritten rules of etiquette, or even the written but not well-circulated rules governing behavior in public spaces.

This list is by no means comprehensive. It is intended as a starting point, an introduction, if you will, to some basic rules of etiquette in some of our favorite places.

A Metro bus in Beverly Hills
A Metro bus in Beverly Hills

6. The bus

Busses in L.A. are actually pretty nice – they're air-conditioned, clean and somewhat predictable via Google Maps on your phone. But riding the bus for the first time can feel like the first day of school, where everyone knows exactly what to do and you're sitting there fumbling around with a five-dollar bill.

First of all, you want to have exact change before you get on the bus — drivers won't give you change (they're too busy driving). You can pay with your TAP card or with cash, which you feed into a machine at the front of the bus. Always enter the bus from the front. Bus fare is currently $1.75 (or $1 for K-12 students and 75 cents for seniors).

Give up your seats for seniors and pregnant women. If you're getting off at the next stop, push the button once. Once will do. Always exit the bus through the back — unless you have a bicycle, in which case you're gonna want to follow these instructions here. In short, there's a giant metal bike rack on the front end of the bus that you need to pull down and put your bike onto. Try to be quick about it — the feeling of a bus full of riders waiting for you to figure it out is not pleasant. When getting off, exit through the front, and make sure the driver knows that you're about to get your bike off the rack, otherwise he might run you over.

A Guide to L.A. Etiquette in 6 Public SpacesEXPAND
Jed Parriott

5. Riding your bike

Riding your bicycle on the sidewalk, while legal within the city of L.A., is generally a bad idea, unless you're going super slow.

"It’s not a bad thing to do a half-block on the sidewalk," says Joe Linton, editor of StreetsblogLA. But for the most part, bicyclists traveling normal speeds should stick to the roads.

If there's a bike lane, use that — but never bike too close to parked cars, or else someone might hit you while opening the door. If there's no bike lane, use the lane on the right. Again, watch out for those doors. You should feel free to bike in the center of the lane; if you ride too close to the curb, cars will be tempted to squeeze close to you.

Try to obey most of the rules of the road, most of the time. Stop at red lights. Stop at stop signs, unless you're sure no one is coming.

"All road users are safest and most predictable when obeying the rules of the road," Linton says. "Drivers speed, cyclists blow stop signs. It’s better if they don’t, but all road users bend those laws to get where they’re going."

What about helmets? If you're under 18, you have to wear one, by law. If you're over 18, you can take them or leave them.

Actually, don't turn left at all here.EXPAND
Actually, don't turn left at all here.
Dennis Romero/L.A. Weekly

4. Making a left turn (with your car)

Just how many cars are allowed to turn left on a red light is a deeply philosophical question that has confounded Angelenos for generations. Technically speaking, if you are making a left turn at a traffic light without a dedicated turn signal, you are supposed to inch gingerly into the intersection, and when the light turns yellow and oncoming traffic stops, you can turn left only if a part of your car is already in the intersection. So technically, if you are the second car, and your bumper is in the intersection, you are good to go, even on a freshly turned red light.

What of the third car? It's unlikely that the third car will have pulled into the intersection by the time the light turns yellow, at least in a heavy traffic situation. But many Angelenos, this reporter included, were raised to believe in the so-called "third car rule," which states that the third car can turn left on a red pretty much no matter what, unless the driver of the second car falls asleep or something.

You won't find the "third car rule" in any DMV handbooks. But you'd be hard-pressed to meet anyone who's ever gotten a ticket for being the third car turning left on a red.

On the other hand, to make the maneuver work, you've really got to hug the bumper of the car in front of you.

So is it cool to turn left as the third car? Is it moral? Like so many etiquette questions, it is rather subjective and is up to the individual. Personally, this reporter obeys the "third car rule" as he does the Sixth Commandment.

Photography isn't allowed inside Wi Spa for obvious reasons. Enjoy this pleasant stock imagery.
Photography isn't allowed inside Wi Spa for obvious reasons. Enjoy this pleasant stock imagery.
Shutterstock

3. Korean spas

Korean spas are a relatively cheap way to relax, experience a different culture and see a ton of people (of your same sex) naked.

First rule of Korean Spa: Don't wear bathing suits in the jacuzzis, saunas or steam rooms in the men- and women-only sections. The jimjilbang, that's a different story.

Second rule: Try really hard not to pee in the hot tubs. Know that not everyone will adhere to this rule. Accept that. Take a quick shower before going into the tubs. Take another quick shower after you use the sauna or the steam room. Dry yourself off thoroughly before going back into the locker room.

Treat the spa as you would a library. If you need to talk, do so at a volume just above a whisper.

The jimjilbang is a coed section of the spa, and you'll want to wear clothes for this.

Buy one drink per hour, OK?EXPAND
Buy one drink per hour, OK?
Danny Liao

2. Coffee shops

One of the great pastimes for underemployed people in Los Angeles is setting up at a coffee shop for four or five hours with your laptop open — "working," i.e. staring into the abyss that is Facebook and chipping away at that screenplay for five minutes.

We asked a coffee shop owner about this kind of behavior. He says: "At minimum, a seat should bring in around five bucks an hour to break even. We've never enforced any sort of time max or purchase minimum, but we have, for sure, considered doing so."

He says a general rule to follow, if you want to be polite, is: Buy a drink every hour. Or at least put some money in the tip jar every hour.

Also: Don't talk on the phone super loudly. I know this stuff sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised at the number of people who treat coffee shops like airport terminals.

A protest over a new coffee shop in Boyle Heights
A protest over a new coffee shop in Boyle Heights
Ted Soqui/L.A. Weekly

1. Gentrification

So you've decided to buy a house in a formerly economically depressed but now up-and-coming neighborhood. Worried that the locals might come after you with pitchforks?

USC professor Dana Cuff told Curbed LA: "Don’t buy in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights." We think that's a bit extreme and know some people who've recently moved to Boyle Heights and been accepted with open arms. Activists who protest art galleries and coffee shops are in a small minority. Most people don't really care who their neighbors are, as long as they're nice and quiet. So the first rule of moving to a new neighborhood that may be gentrifying is: Just be nice. Don't be a dick. Again, these things seem obvious, but you'd be surprised.

Try to avoid evicting anyone. If you buy a house with renters and you need to kick them out, be prepared to pay them handsomely. Offer to help relocate them. And if you remodel your house, maybe don't put up a gentrification fence. Just a thought.


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