Door Jam

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Manners / Gratitude

Posted: 04/11/2010

As I noted in my last post, a lot of humans are not very good at sharing public space. I’ve had countless conversations with people when discussing this blog and my book project that end with, It’s really not that hard. Apparently for a lot of people it IS that hard.

This post was inspired by a Yelp conversation on the Boston Boards titled, Rude People. Karl R. started the conversation by asking, Does anyone else hate it when you hold a door for someone and they don’t say thanks??  When I don’t get that “thank you”, I usually respond by saying, “I don’t get paid for this…”  How do you guys deal with it?

Yelp threads often digress into inane, sophomoric banter, but Karl’s questions prompted some thoughtful dialogue. The Yelp responses are generally divided into 2 camps:

#1- An eye for an eye:

D.K. Hate it. And I usually say sarcastically, “You’re welcome.”

My edited response: I’m with the camp that supports tweaking the ignorant people with a sarcastic, “You’re welcome.” It’s Pollyannaish when people say, “Don’t let them get to you,” or let “karma” come back to bite them. If enough people speak up maybe these unaware, narcissistic, people will snap out of it and change their behavior. When we ignore them, we encourage them.

Kerri O. You know, all politeness is, is an extension of being compassionate.  If someone is rude, it’s just that they are only thinking about themselves.  It’s best to shake them out of their mindset, by pointing out that other people exist, and it’s better to be considerate to them.

Didi V. (combined responses) This is about manners.  No matter your personal turmoil, to consistently act like a dick is wrong.  I do feel sorry for people who don’t realize it’s wrong. They’re sociopaths because their parents never corrected selfish behavior. Maybe they had a really sweet hippie parent who didn’t believe in “wrong” behavior… When I let cars in, and I don’t get the wave, it bothers me.  No wave?  C’mon!

#2- Turn the other cheek:

Anthony L. I’m not polite for the thanks. I’m polite because it’s the right thing to do. No need to be rude after not getting any thanks. Seems childish to me.

Michael N. I’m with Anthony. Some people suck. I prefer to forget about them and concentrate on those that don’t.

Mary M. (combined comments) If someone didn’t ask you to hold the door for them, and didn’t expect you to hold the door for them, and you’re doing it out of your own sense of politeness, and you then get cranky and angry when you’re not thanked in the manner that you expect, doesn’t that rather take away from the graciousness of your act? If I hold the door for someone and they don’t thank me, I can honestly say that it doesn’t even momentarily bother me.  I think there are a couple of reasons for this: 1) I don’t have an expectation of thanks when I hold the door, 2) I don’t read a lot into their behavior.

Richard M.  Expectations outside of yourself will:  ALWAYS let you down. Better to spend the little time you have above ground building your own karma. Others may have more pressing concerns, that you can not know of:  Until you walk a mile in their shoes. Imagine for a moment that they might be absorbed dealing with; cancer, a dying spouse, an incurable sick child or infant, or just something you can not imagine. A gift of kindness is a GIFT OF KINDNESS.

Benjamin K. Sociopaths and narcissists suffer from mental illness that they can’t help.  It doesn’t mean their behavior is okay or should be excused, but perhaps understood as more complicated than just losing their shit on you when you serve them a coffee. Best to avoid these types as often as possible because their behavior will never change, even if they want it to…

My response to Benjamin: I disagree. I believe that if enough people push back and let rude people know that their behavior is unacceptable, the rude behavior can eventually change. The passive, karma, tolerance approach only encourages bad behavior. More people need to speak up and say what everyone is thinking about the rude, obnoxious behavior. And when someone does speak up, more people need to back up the person who confronted the unacceptable behavior. Too many people are afraid to speak up or get involved.

I understand Benjamin’s point about the extreme cases where behavior will never be modified. Some people are incapable or unwilling to learn how to work and play well with others.  However, the majority of entitled, rude people perceive themselves as exempt from the basic tenets of mutual respect and common courtesy. As I noted in the Yelp thread, There is something ingrained in people and our culture that makes it ok to remain silent and tolerate abusive, offensive behavior. Most people are confrontation adverse because it’s awkward and uncomfortable to speak up. It seems that we always think of the perfect response when it’s too late. Confronting without confrontation is an art that takes practice. I’m working on speaking up more often rather than dealing with the regret that often follows silence.

I’ll be discussing the origin and reasons for bad manners and how to deal with them in the Confront Without Being Confrontational chapter in my book. We have become so inured to bad behavior that we accept it as inevitable.

Quantifying the epidemic of bad manners is easy. Articles on bad manners always generate record numbers of comments online. (As of this post there are more than one hundred and four thousand fans in the If I hold a door open for you, I expect a “thank you” fan page on facebook.) Raising awareness and fostering change are the real challenge.


  • Thanks to all Yelp commenters. Please read the entire Yelp thread to understand the full context of all comments.
  • People who don’t let the door slam in your face are the same people who don’t say thank you when you hold the door for them.
  • People who go through the unopened door when you are holding a door open for them really suck.
  • ABC News had a program with hidden cameras called, What would you do? A modern day Candid Camera, they interviewed people after secretly filming their behavior in staged social contexts. I’d like to see a program called, Why didn’t you?, where they would catch people being rude and ask them why they didn’t thank someone holding the door, wave to a driver who let them go in traffic or cross the street.

What are your thoughts and experiences? Which camp are you in? Thank you.

28 Responses to “Door Jam”

  1. Dr. Hank says:

    Depending on my mood, I’ll either act as if they were kind, or say “F-you” under my breath and proceed as if they weren’t there. My latest is to always stop to help people or animals that appear to need support.

    Dr. Hank

  2. tim h says:

    i dont really get offended if someone doesn’t say thank you. what does bother me is when you hold the door for one person and ten others come running thru. life’s too short to worry about other peoples behavior.

  3. Alex Lincoln says:

    I agree with Tim H. I get more annoyed by all ten of the people behind the person you held the door for in the first place. What is really annoying is when you hold the door for someone, and the timing is just right with people following behind, that you don’t get a break, and nobody offers to relieve you. Basically you end up having to choose which person is not worthy of having the door held for them. Then a lady with a baby walks up. Then a guy on crutches and a kid in a wheelchair. Etc. Etc. Etc. You all know what I am talking about. The people that don’t thank me for holding a door, I respond to with “It’s ok, I work here”. To which they usually laugh, still completely unaware that I just assaulted them with sarcasm, and cynicism. I still do it. I’ll never stop. My momma raised me proper I guess. It’s just too bad that isn’t the universal mentality. Patrick, thanks again for another social phenomenon to ponder.

  4. Funny, Alex. I can just picture you standing there holding the door with everyone streaming by, Hey, a little help here???

    I think it would be really interesting to engage someone who doesn’t say thank you when you hold the door for them. Maybe something like, Excuse me. I’m doing a sociological experiment and I’m curious to know why some people say thank you in that curcumstance and why others don’t. Why didn’t you? I’m really curious to see how people would respond and what makes them tick.

    At least if anyone says, Hey, you ask a lot of questions. What are you writing a fucking Book?, I can say, As a matter of fact, I am!!!

  5. Alex Lincoln says:

    I may have to start using the ol’ “sociological experiment” line. I like that. I haven’t been in a fight in years. That might be the best way to brush up on my skills.

  6. Nancy says:

    Oh this one gets me ever time!
    I used to say “your welcome” – sarcastically of course – under my breath. Now I find the older I get the louder I get. I’m not shy anymore about pointing out this most obnoxious behavior. Also if I see someone coming that’s on their phone, I’m not as apt to hold the door anymore. AND If I were to keep statistics, it’s by far the younger generation that lack these social skills. There isn’t even eye contact with the person holding the door. Enough already!

  7. carpe bliss says:

    So much of it truly and simply comes down to respect, decency, dignity, civility, awareness, and compassion. These dicussions are so important because they encourage us to assess/take an inventory of our own behaviors at large.
    Being philosophical for a moment— it IS the several moments of our busy days that make them up….. and we have to ask ourselves… when we have had the opportunities to simply step up and do the right thing, be it… offer a spontaneous thank-you when someone was kind enough to hold-open the door, or graciously take a moment to wave along another vechicle as they were awaiting a break in the traffic etc.

    These are such simple moments/acts of appropriate behavior to contribute to each other. We all HAVE to give each other these moments!!!!
    They MAKE A DIFFERENCE!!! They set EXAMPLES!! They MAKE US ALL FEEL GOOD. They keep things FLOWING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION!!!! They CHANGE the landscape by supplying HOPE in a stranger’s day…. a feeling like “someone Gives a damn!”

    Can’t life be hard enough whether you are the gal fighting cancer or the guy without a job, or the mom who lost her child, or the every day Joe who is just having a bad day, or the every day Jane on her way to a job interview?

    The thing is…. it’S NOT HARD…and we have to Give a damn… and it HAS TO BECOME SECOND NATURE FOR ALL OF US!!!

    It’s our obligation to ourselves and each other.

  8. amc says:

    To those people who say “an act of kindness shouldn’t need a reward” or “I don’t do something kind with the expectation of something in return”, you perpetuate the problem by excusing it.
    I don’t ever act kind or do the right thing because I “want” anything in return. I don’t ever expect anything in return from a family member or a close friend that I may even do a favor for. But lets be real. When someone doesn’t have the decency to acknowledge an act of kindess or courtesy, that represents something on a much larger level. They don’t care about anything other than what’s in or around their bubble. They feel entitled to someone elses courtesy as if they were paying for it. By not even acknowledging someone taking a second out of their day to make your life the slightest bit easier, you have demonstrated that you feel entitled to or expect that from another human being.

    This is not something that will ruin my day. As a matter of fact, it makes me really appreciate my upbringing and how I was taught to respect other people and be aware of the world around me. Apparently those with this type of behavior did not learn the same.

  9. I believe it’s not about “them”, it’s about what’s inside each of us. I always find your posts thought provoking! My take is this; I do things without expecting a reciprocal gesture. It’s quite nice to receive one back, all the better. “But” my grandmother (an exceptionally wise woman-who raised us) taught us to do good, a kindness, politeness without expecting “anything” back. The art (the act, the goodness, the gesture) was in the giving, not in the receiving. She use to say, “When you do any kind of good, your right hand, must never know, that your left hand has done a kindness. Otherwise, you UN-DO the good you have done, and my kindness becomes meaningless. Simply a shallow action of nothingness. Because you wanted to be recognized for it. This rule was practiced by Abraham Lincoln, it is in noted in one of the many biography’s I read about him. And I know for a fact, he wasn’t raised by my Greek grandmother.

    This is embedded in all of us and I have done the same with my children. It has alleviated a great deal of unnecessary anticipation and expectations on my part, and that is how I train crews to manage such instances. If you get a thank you, “you” are blessed. If you don’t, your “blessed double” for doing good without expecting anything in return. It’s like putting everything in it’s rightful place – and that isn’t always easy to do because each and every one of us has our own dignity and pride.

    Example: I had the job to arrange for “special very private arrangements” for a very high profile, famous movie star, while I was working my agency abroad. A King, had ordered a requisition, I was to afford her every courtesy.

    I was required to personally meet her at the airport (something I never would do for anyone! I had a full staff of very professional chauffeurs, to do such tasks. I agreed to do so as to please, the King (client) who was always so gracious to me (and my entire staff) and quite generous with his commissions. I met her; a vulgar, rude, disgusting young woman, who desperately needed clean clothes and a bath (no two baths – still wouldn’t have gotten her spic and span).

    Quite frankly, I felt like punching her lights out, but I held my tongue (something almost impossible for me) but it was more important to practice restraint, because I held the King in such high regard, and I knew he was counting on me. Which meant he trusted me.

    I completed the task and was called almost immediately once I delivered her to his yacht. I received a phone call from the client thanking me profusely. He had received word from his staff that she had been very disrespectful to me. I received a courier within hours with a check for $10,000 USD. Unknown to me – it was his niece. Moral of the story (I didn’t expect a reward and got one) because I did what was expected of me. Quite a compliment!
    Hope this helps! Remembering that it is my personal perspective!

    PS: My temperament isn’t one of a high degree of tollerance for such behavior from ANYONE! Yet, that little lesson ended up teaching me more about myself than you could ever imagine, and not for any reward.

  10. Fenwick says:

    “Please”, “Thank You”, and “you are most welcome” are just common courtesy phrases we were all taught in first grade…it’s amazing how many people forget basic communication skills when they get older. I think humoring these self absorbed individuals, who never recognize a good deed, with sarcasm is the most effective and entertaining way to go.

    The one’s that bother me the most are those people who try to push their way into an over crowded elevator before those trying to get off at the same floor have a chance to get out. I’ll usually block the door and say “where are you going to go…?…can’t you see that you can’t get in here unless you first let us out there”….it’s a simple third grade geometry problem…maybe they flunked third grade.

  11. Mandamus says:

    Are you holding the door open because you’re a nice person and enjoy helping out other people? Or are you doing it because you yearn for validation from complete strangers? And when you don’t get the minuscule pat on the back because they didn’t say thank you, you immediately revert to being a dick by letting lose with your sarcastic “you’re welcome”.

    I do it because I’m a nice guy. If they don’t say thank you, I move on. I don’t need people to acknowledge my actions. I know what I did, and why.

  12. Emily says:

    I agree with Mandamus’ comment. If someone doesn’t say thank you when I hold the door, that’s fine. I really don’t need validation to know I’ve done something nice.

  13. CD Berkeley says:

    I don’t want to be redundant so I’ll just say – for me – amc summed it up the best. I do it without thinking twice about it. Often times, I don’t even realize I did it. But on the occasion that someone doesn’t say thank you or, better, doesn’t wave when you save their ass by letting them into your lane because they decided to wait until the last minute to cut over, I find it notable at first and then, after a bit more consideration, upsetting. Upsetting for what it speaks to about their obvious sense of entitlement, of their lack of manners and common courtesy. And I give plenty of people the benefit of the doubt – we all have our moments. But we all know the people we’re talking about here – the ones that breeze through the door with almost a smile on their face. They’re not distracted, or worried about something else. They’re thinking about themselves and that’s what I find upsetting.

  14. Kristen says:

    I’ll admit, I’m a “caregiver” sort. If I’m a few strides ahead of anyone on the way to the entrance to whatever place I’m about to be entering, I’ll pause and hold the door open to allow people (and yes, I’m female) to enter first, with a smile. There’s no reason to have a door slam in someone else’s face when they’re mere steps from the entrance. I’ve seen it happen, and personally, find it terribly rude.

    Mandamus, we need more nice guys like you.

  15. Eleanor says:

    I believe that it’s NOT OK to be impolite and rude to others. I also believe it’s WRONG to disrespect someone that has done something nice, such as, holding the door open for you. If someone is thoughtful and polite enough to hold the door open for me, then of course I’m going to acknowledge that person and say “thank you”.

    From my experience, most people don’t do nice deeds for others because they want something in return. They do it because they genuinely care about other people and they want the best for others.

    We can all make a positive difference in the world by having the courage to stand up to impolite and rude individuals, and by making them aware that their behavior is unacceptable.

    Polite, caring people are not looking for any accolades, simply a more pleasant world to live in, where we all treat each other with mutual respect and dignity.

  16. Diana says:

    So these folks who weren’t good at taking manners lessons from their parents will suddenly become polite because of a sarcastic remark made by some self-righteous person holding a door open for them? I don’t think so. One teaches manners by example and by instructing one’s own children. I agree with the folks who say you should be polite because it’s the right thing to do and not because you expect reciprocity. Muttered curses, sarcasm and intentional embarrassment of a fellow human being are the exact opposite of polite behavior. They aren’t excused simply because they follow a polite act that wasn’t acknowledged. You folks who are doing this know better. Perhaps the people who upset you don’t.

  17. Diana- I don’t believe it’s self-righteous to be polite.

    Maybe it won’t happen overnight, but rude people can change over time if they become more aware of their inappropriate behavior.

    I also don’t believe it’s asking too much for people to have a little common courtesy and to make a human connection. It’s really not that hard.

  18. Jude says:

    I’m a little confused….so someone is rude to you, and you’re rude right back, and that makes you right? How so? I mean, you gotta pick your battles….if not getting a ‘thank you’ for holding a door open riles you up so much, you’re going to be dealing with a lot of stress initiated by other people….do you really want to give other people so much control over your stress levels?

  19. Frankie says:

    I don’t think anyone who is polite enough to do something nice for another human being, is going to get riled up or stressed because they don’t get a ‘thank you’. I also don’t believe people who do acts of kindness for others are doing it because they’re looking for something in return. The point of this discussion is that we all want a society where everyone treats each other with common courtesy.

    Therefore, the self absorbed rude people who can’t take 2 seconds and acknowledge fellow human beings(setting a bad example for our children), need to be corrected. If they are not made aware of their own rudeness, their poor behavior will continue to be perpetuated and get worse over time.

    Ignoring these rude people will not change them. So that leaves only one option if you truly want a society where everyone treats each other with common courtesy……we need to make a positive contribution to help change their behavior.

    If enough people communicate to these rude individuals that their behavior is unacceptable, eventually they’re bound to change for the better. That communication can be in many forms….a quick hint, through humour or sarcasm, or in the rare occurrence that you actually have the time to talk to these individuals, a frank discussion educating them about their poor behavior.

    In any case, doing nothing will yield nothing, and we will fail at the objective of creating a society where everyone is courteous and polite to each other.

    P.S. If you’re trying to teach your children to be polite and courteous, how can you allow your children to see you ignore people that are rude to you and them, as if that’s OK? (remember – “silence is agreement”).

  20. Jeff, I don’t hold doors open for people to receive their gratitude. I do it because good manners have been ingrained in me from a very young age. Every exchange with another human being is unique. Sometimes I don’t say anything when there’s no acknowledgement, other times I’ll tweak the person a little with “Sure,” or “You’re welcome.” It’s pretty common to get no response living in the city. I’ve come to expect it from a growing percentage of people, especially the people who are plugged in (head phones) and tuned out. It’s unfortunate, because a little positive human interaction is so easy. Many people miss out on the opportunity.

  21. Jeff Toister says:

    It’s an interesting and provacative question. My point of view – I’d suggest differentiating between someone not acknowledging what you do for them and someone doing something TO you. It’s a lack of manners to not say “thank you” if someone holds the door open for you. It’s rude if someone allows the door to slam in your face.

    Patrick, your response to not receiving a “thank you” makes it seems like your real motivation for holding a door open for someone is to receive their gratitude. (I doubt that’s really true.) I’m 100% in the eye for an eye camp if someone does something rude TO me. I don’t say anything if someone simply doesn’t acknowledge something I do FOR them (I just don’t do it again).

  22. Belinda says:

    I agree with Frankie. Not ever correcting a persons impolite behavior is just encouraging people to continue being impolite to each other.

    Not saying ‘thank you’ will even discourage SOME people from doing nice things for you again-(holding the door open for you).

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  24. UserGoogol says:

    I try to hold the door for people when the opportunity arises, but frankly I don’t really expect or even necessarily want a thank you.

    After all, when someone says thank you, what do we say back? “You’re welcome.” (Or I like saying, “No problem.”) That is to say, when someone says thank you to you, you reply by saying that they didn’t need to thank you. So I feel like to expect a thank you is really missing the point of what being nice to people is all about.

    When I hold a door for someone, I just want them to be able to get through the doorway faster. Saying thank you to me just adds an extra burden to their day. A very minor burden, but so’s having to open a door. If all I do when I hold the door for someone is trade one minor burden for another, I’ve just wasted both their time and mine.

  25. michelle says:

    If someone doesn’t say “thank you” I’ll usually say “you’re welcome”.

    It should be just second nature for people to say thank you. It shows that you appreciate what someone has done for you.

  26. ChickenFreak says:

    I used to be shy. Really shy. Couldn’t order my food at a restaurant shy. Have to work myself up for thirty seconds to say a word shy.

    This was a problem for thanking people who opened doors for me – by the time the thirty seconds were up, they were either offended or long gone. And if they expressed their offense, then no words were going to come out at all.

    So I’d hang waaaaaaaay back so that no one could open the door for me. Or rush ahead so I could open the door for them. (Them thanking me was also scarey, but at least it didn’t require me to go through the Word Manufacturing Process, so it was faster.) Or smile wildly at them and veer off as if I’d suddenly realized I was going the wrong way. Or gulp and nod and try to look grateful without actually spitting out any words, which was also difficult but faster.

    That’s over – now I can mentally kick myself and spit out a cheerful and sprightly “Thanks!” in a timely manner. And I’m no longer tempted to flee when someone thanks me for holding a door. But getting there took some doing. And I’d still prefer that people just refrain from dropping doors in each others’ faces as a matter of course, without expecting thanks for it.

    I’m not saying that many or even most of the people who don’t say thank you have this same problem. But I am saying that there _may_ be a some reason outside the person’s complete control, and that it might be better for the doorholder’s own peace of mind to assume that there is.

  27. nana says:

    The restaurant I work in has a summer patio. Unfortunately, we servers have to go through the lobby to get to the patio because it is out on the sidewalk in front. Can you imagine how many times this summer we have had to wade through a lobby full of people with heavy trays and bus tubs? It has been a NIGHTMARE! Especially when people line up to get in the nightclub, which is sometimes winds all the way through the dining room! Then there are those crowded around on the sidewalk chatting and smoking. SOMETIMES people will step aside to let you through and maybe one out of ten will actually get the door for you! I have even been ignored by the hosts who sit at the stand reading magazines!

  28. Ben says:

    If someone holds the door open for me, I dont feel I HAVE to say thank you, although society teaches me that I SHOULD say thank you. But, if they hold the door open for me, thats their business, they chose to make the decision to hold the door open, I shouldn’t have to say thank you for something I could easily do myself. However because it’s a norm and to spare an awkward moment I say thank you anyway.

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