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Rant: Unhelpful Politeness

Hmm. I haven't had a good rant in a while. Let's remedy that, shall we?

Yes! Let's!

Normally, the last thing I would complain about is people showing courtesy. And if you don't want to be exposed to my snarkiness, I'd advise stopping right here.

Rude people1 annoy me. I'm sure they annoy all of us. So it's not a bad thing when people show common courtesy, such as holding the door or giving you the right of way.

But there also comes a point where that "common courtesy" becomes a passive-aggressive way of forcing you to do things their way.

Let me elucidate, since I have probably lost a good number of you at this point. (It's not too late to stop reading, you know. Before I say something you'll really be annoyed by.)

Let's say I'm in the elevator with someone riding down to the first floor so we can go home for the evening. The elevator doors open, and the person in the car with me—whom I do not know2—gets out first, then stands and holds the door open for me to exit, as if the elevator were a ravenous nerdivore whose favorite food is bald, near-sighted cube-dwellers that are, shall we say, "worldly."3

When the elevator doors open, they stay open for a good 30 seconds. I was here about a week back in 2005 before I figured this out.4 Unless someone is unbelievably slow, they're in no danger of being consumed by the evil elevator-beast.

So I walk out of the elevator and the guy precedes me to the glass door that leads from the elevator alcove into the lobby proper. The automatic motion-detector senses our approach and the "click" tells us that we don't have to press the button to be allowed egress.

The door opens out to the left. I am right-handed almost to the point of disability with respect to my left hand. I have my backpack slung over my left shoulder. I am generally holding at least one or two other items in my left hand as well. I need to use my (free) right hand to open the door.

This is no problem when I am by myself. But if the person in front of me decides to be polite and hold the door open for me, I find myself in the position of having to shift stuff out of my left hand to my right so I can "accept" the open door from them, or catch it with my left hip or shoulder. If they'd just let it swing shut, I could push it hard enough with my right hand to open it just enough for me to pass through comfortably.

So now we're through the inner doors and headed for the outer doors. There are two. They are glass. The left one opens out to the left, the right one opens out to the right.

Guess which one the person in front of me almost invariably chooses?

That's right. The left door. And they pause to hold it open for me, as though I'm incapable of handling the unbelievably complex task of opening a door.5

I've finally gotten to the point where I just ignore them standing there holding open the left door and open the right one with my unencumbered right hand and continue on my way. I'm not rude to them or anything; I just decline to accept inconvenient help I don't need.

And then sometimes, it leads to logjams.

Today at lunch, I was on the elevator down to the first floor by myself, for a change. So I had to manage my own, daring escape from the clutches of the employee-consuming Elevator-Beast of Building Two. (The horror! The...horror!) Heaving a heavy sigh after my momentous victory, I push open the left-and-out-opening glass door with my right hand, walk through unmolested, and find myself approaching the double glass doors at the same time as a group approaches from outside.

Now, this is America. We drive on the right. We generally walk on the right. So when approaching a set of double doors, the logical thing to do would be to open the door on the right and pass through.

The woman at the head of the group coming at me opens the left door (to her), then walks through and stands in front of me, completely blocking my way while she "politely" lets about 8 people come through the door. Now, let me help you picture this: she decides that instead of standing outside and holding the door open to let her companions come in first, she will open the door, walk through, and then lean into the open doorway to hold it open from the inside (remember, it opens out) while eight people hurry through the door.

She tries to hold the door open for me and the person behind me, but...I can't say this nicely. Her bulk and mine will not coexist in the open doorway at the same time. There are laws of physics that make that impossible. Blame it on my width, not hers, if it makes you more comfortable. But suffice it to say that neither of us are going to be modeling bikinis any time soon. So I smile and motion her to come all the way in, and when she moves away, I open the door, walk through and let it go, pointedly not pausing to hold it open for an extra second or two for the person behind me, who it must be pointed out is an adult capable of opening a door on their own (and not carrying something with both hands, dragging a rolling case, or encumbered in any way).

So yes, I am, in essence, complaining about people being polite. Because they're being unhelpfully polite, circling around back through polite and toward the contested border with rude.

Consider the passive-aggressive way some people have of pausing to hold the door open for you when you're just far enough away from the door to make their pause an inconvenience to them. Do you hurry to make their sacrifice worthwhile, or do you continue at your own pace and make them look foolish for holding the door for someone who is in no hurry? Is that polite, or is it actually passive-aggressive? I think there's a fine line.

And I think this particular "problem" has become so pervasive, we don't realize it when we see it, anymore. Yesterday, I went into the bathroom and the guy who happened to be entering behind me said, "Thank you" when I opened the door for myself and went through. I didn't hold it open for him. I just...went in. But he thanked me. Are we so used to people being unhelpfully polite that we thank people for not even being polite at all, just in case they intended it that way?

Before you hit the 'comment' link and compose a tongue-lashing berating me for being annoyed by people simply being polite, I will note that I am not rude (nor behaving rudely) to any of these people. I just don't feel obligated to feel gratitude for unhelpful, passive-aggressive politeness.

I also find myself doing it! Today, I held the elevator doors for someone just like the guy who annoyed me did. It's pervasive! We do it without thinking because I think we were all taught at a young age that it's polite to hold the door for people, or polite to allow them to go through the door first.

So, please, stop being unhelpfully polite. Do it for the children! Or the terrorists will already have won.

  1. I'm not sure there is any such thing as a person who is always rude. I should have said "people behaving rudely" instead of rude people. I'm sure you'll forgive my rudeness.
  2. In the sense that I may recognize their face and maybe know their name, but not knowing them beyond that most super of ficials.
  3. You know...bigger around at the equator than at the poles?
  4. And neither the "close door" nor "open door" buttons have the slightest effect—which I also figured out within a couple of weeks of working here—yet I see people punching them furiously as though if they just press it hard enough and often enough, it'll make the doors hurry. But I digress.
  5. I know they're just being "polite." But keep reading. Or not. There is still time to stop.

Atheists Are People, Too  Antispam  


( 10 hisses — Hiss at me! )
Mar. 5th, 2009 11:56 pm (UTC)
I am in complete agreement.

My own personal pet peeve of over helpfulness is the driver who slams on their brakes to allow someone to turn left in front of them - never mind that there's only 3 cars behind them and that everyone would get through *faster* if they just WENT and let the turn-taker turn after traffic had passed.
Mar. 6th, 2009 01:09 am (UTC)
...and I get actively annoyed with drivers that completely disrupt traffic patterns and cause a snarl in order to needlessly stop and let me cross the street (and I don't mean at a crosswalk where they're required to), when I would be able to cross JUST FINE if they would friggin GO and get out of my way before the car way behind them catches up. Especially on those occasions when crossing like they want me to is just going to get me killed by the car impatiently (justified impatience, I will add) zipping around them to their left.
Mar. 6th, 2009 01:57 am (UTC)
My addition: drivers who stop and furiously wave you through at a 2- or 4-way stop when it's CLEARLY their turn to go. I actually had one of them get visibly angry at me when I wouldn't take the wave the other day. There were squealing tires and everything.
Mar. 6th, 2009 02:33 am (UTC)
There are often men of a certain age at work who believe women must exit the elevator before they do. This is rather awkward when one of those men is standing in front of me, since it would actually be a lot easier for me to get out if they were not standing in my way, waving me out.

Mar. 6th, 2009 03:34 pm (UTC)
My pet peeve involves doors on elevators and public transportation. It completely irks me when people don't get that they should let people OFF before they get ON. Taking the T this week there was a mob who nearly crushed the handful of people getting off the T. I understand some people might be anxious that they might miss the train, but if you let people OFF there will be more room for you to get ON. So leave a little room for people to disembark, and things will go much more smoothly.

When we were in NYC a few weeks ago I noticed the same thing, but to less of a degree. My favorite was taking the "S" train that goes across town. All it does is go back and forth between two stops. If perchance you miss your stop or the train, another will be along relatively soon going back where it just came from. And yet, people rushed onto it as soon as it arrived, clamoring a seat for the ride which only lasted a few minutes. So that was amusing...

It also bugs me when people try to push their way onto an elevator without pausing to let people off. Once again, the space isn't going to get any larger, so you may as well let people off first. The elevators in our office actually DO eat people - they are barely the width of half a regular elevator with not much more depth - and the doors on both of them close shockingly fast. It's very difficult to hold the door as the Door Open buttons are cranky - the other day J. went to work with me and before I could get in (I was carrying things and got him on first) the doors closed and he went up without me. Guess it keeps things interesting, eh?
Mar. 6th, 2009 10:40 pm (UTC)
There must be something wrong with me. I just smile, say "thank you," and go on my merry way.
Mar. 6th, 2009 10:42 pm (UTC)
You're not curmudgeonly enough. :)
Mar. 6th, 2009 10:50 pm (UTC)
I take that as a compliment. :)
Mar. 7th, 2009 12:20 am (UTC)
: )

For what it's worth, I always open the door on the right. Opening the left door is just weird.

But you know one shouldn't hold doors open for people at all. It's bad for the environment.
Mar. 7th, 2009 03:43 am (UTC)
dragging a rolling case

These people need to be beaten with a sock full of nickels.
( 10 hisses — Hiss at me! )

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