I’m a student at a university of 30,000 in a city 0f 800,000. I’m taking a full load of classes, student teaching 2 days a week, and I work at a grocery store about 20 hours a week. This means that I go in and out of a lot of doorways. So I hold doors open for a lot of strangers, and a lot of strangers hold doors open for me.
But I’m pretty sure most people living in a city or suburb can relate, right? And we all know the etiquette for the situation. If someone is following you through a door within a certain distance, the courteous thing to do is to pause for a moment to hold it open for them. But what are the rules exactly? When is it socially acceptable to just drop the door? Here are my rules of thumb:
1. When you walk through a public door, cast a quick glance over your shoulder to see if anyone is behind you. If there is, go on to number 2.
2. If you made eye contact with them when you looked over your shoulder, hold the door for them no matter how far behind you they are. Making eye contact and then dropping the door says, “I see you back there, but I just don’t care.” If you saw someone behind you, but you didn’t make eye contact, go on to number 3.
3. Are their arms full? Are they elderly? In a wheelchair? Carrying a baby? Struggling to get their umbrella folded up? You know how I feel about umbrellas. The point is, if they would for any reason have more trouble opening the door themselves than you’d have holding it for them, then hold it open. If they appear fully capable, go on to number 4.
4. Are they wearing a service uniform? I like to hold doors open for military personnel, police, firemen, anyone wearing a uniform that shows they’ve made it their career to keep me safe. It’s just a little gesture of respect, I suppose. No uniform? On to number 5.
5. Now for the distance rule. This is where you can be rude or awkward or make someone’s day. If they are close behind you and the door slams in their face, you’re guilty of being rude. But if they are far away and you hold the door, you create this awkward situation where they feel like they have to run to the door so they don’t keep you holding it for too long. Practice makes perfect.
Now, just for the record, I’ve never really put any thought at all into this before. I don’t go through this five-step process consciously in my mind every time I open a public door. I just want to make sure you know that, so you don’t think I’m a super weirdo or something (Granted, if you know me, you might think that anyway). But it doesn’t end with holding the door. There’s usually some sort of verbal exchange that goes along with it, which tends to follow one of the following templates:
Verbal Exchange 1
Door-holder: “No prob’m”
Verbal Exchange 2
Verbal Exchange 3
(Non)Verbal Exchange 4
And I guess all of those are okay. I mean, the beneficiary acknowledges the gesture, and the door-holder acknowledges the gratitude. Good deal. But I think we could do so much better. I’ve decided that if someone takes the time to hold a door open for me, I will take the time to say two complete words to express my appreciation. Thank you. And maybe I am a super weirdo, but it makes me happy when I get to hold a door open for somebody. So I’m trying something new and kind of radical. When someone thanks me for holding a door open, I say “My pleasure.” It feels really weird. At least, it did at first. Now it’s getting a little more normal. I’ve gotten a lot of really big smiles from people too.
And that’s all I was really going for anyway.
It has been brought to my attention by one of my readers that I failed to mention a very important rule of door-holding etiquette. This is Joshua Bucy’s rule:
If you are behind someone, and they actually open the door for you and let you go through first at say, Jimmy John’s or McDonald’s where there’s a line on the inside, for God’s sake, let them get back in front of you. Every time I open the door someone at Panda Express, they inevitably get the last of the orange chicken.
Thank you so much, Joshua. I wholeheartedly agree. Just last week I lost some apple crisp in that very way. It was rather tragic.