I think everyone who has gone to the gym understands your situation, since we all were beginners at one time. Trying to figure out what a machine does can be kind of humiliating; what if you're using it wrong? For that reason I recommend talking to a personal trainer just to get a primer on the equipment.
In any case, here are some basic things I think everyone should know about using the gym, and how to be respectful of the establishment and other patrons:
- Read the gym rules
The rules are likely to be posted somewhere in the gym. Read them and follow them. Try to encourage others to do the same if you can.
- Rack your weights
This is a pet peeve of every experienced gym patron. Nobody likes hunting down weights, or having to dig through plates because the 5lb plate is buried behind four 35lb plates. Keep it neat. Put your weight back where it belongs when you're done.
- Use the equipment properly
If there's a squat rack and you're doing curls in it, you're preventing someone from using the equipment as it was designed. You don't need a rack to curl unless you're curling so much you physically can't pick the weight up off the ground.
- Be respectful to beginners
You were a beginner once too. Help them if you can do it in a friendly and non-intimidating way. Be a friend to a beginner.
Don't hog the equipment. Let people work in if you're going to be a long time. If you see someone who looks like they're waiting, ask them if they'd like to work in.
If a piece of equipment you'd like to use is not in use, but out of place, ask others if they are using it, or have seen anyone using it recently.
- Clean up after yourself
If you're sweaty, wipe it up with sanitizer.
- Yield to people carrying weights
Encumbered people have the right of way. Give them space.
- Don't hog the water fountain
It's impolite to fill your water bottle in the water fountain when people are standing in line and just want a sip.
Basically it all comes down to respect. Respect the space in the way you'd like your own space to be respected by others, and everything will be fine!