Politely in the way: an awkward door holding ritual

Today I was sitting in a sandwich shop. Yes, it was Subway. I eat there almost as much as Jared. I chose a small table near the door because I was just one person and didn’t think I should take a booth, even though the table was so small it made it hard for me to do the reading I planned on. Perhaps this is why I ended up watching people as they entered more than I read. I’ve always been interested in ‘door opening’ behavior, and today I saw an interaction that got me thinking about obedience to civility norms and how they directly coerce our embodied behavior.

Outside, a male/female couple with a baby carrier approached the door from the right, while a lone man approached from the left. The man got to the door an instant before the female member of the couple, and opened the door from left to right so that she was now effectively behind it. Noticing the woman, the lone man stepped close to the door, standing inside it but not going into the shop. He held the door so the woman and the man could enter before him. He was, however, in the way so that the man and woman had to adjust their path to get around him. He was, at once, being polite and standing in the way. It was a polite, but awkward exchange.

The lone man could have very easily walked through the door he had opened, and the woman could have reached out and held it while waiting to go through. They had both taken straight line paths to door up until their meeting, being very efficient about entering. But, once they were at the door, the paths became less efficient in the service of civility. Not to mention that the lone man lost the spot in the sandwich line to which he had a justifiable claim. He got there first, after all. Now, the cost of his civility was being in the way, and being 2 further spots away from his 11 inch ‘foot-long’ sub.

The sketch below illustrates what I saw. A,B are the couple, and C is the lone man. Straight lines indicate ‘efficient’ paths, and curved lines indicate walking around an obstacle (in this case the door, and the polite, lone man).

Sketch of door holding ritual

Sketch of door holding ritual

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2 comments

  1. Well Matt, as one who considers himself a defensive driver, I believe seeing the situation developing I would have slowed to allow the family the reach the door first and then the husband, be he so inclined, could open the door for his wife and child. Thus, the potential collision would be avoided. In that I have a sufficient store of carbs I could wait a few extra minutes for my 11″ foot long sub. (My patience would diminish rapidly however if the couple then stared at the menu for a protracted period of time deciding what to order.)

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