How to Hold Open a Door
January 19, 2011 6:49 AM   Subscribe

What is the proper way to hold a door for someone you are walking with?

I've heard and read on innumerable occasions that holding the door for a lady with whom you are walking is an absolute given for any gentleman.

But I've often come across an awkward situation, and I'm not sure how to solve the puzzle it presents.

Say I am walking with a lady inside of a building. We come to the front door, which of course opens outward. It the building were of a certain type, a doorman would be standing there to open it for us. But say there is no doorman. Which of the following methods is preferred:

1) Cross in front of the lady and quickly exit first, making her break her stride momentarily while I get in front and hold the door open?


2) Perform a Herculean feat of strength by attempting to open the door all the way with my extended backhand, and then pass behind the lady out of the door? Invariably I can't hold the door to 90 degrees, so the lady is forced to skirt the awkward angle.

I'm shocked at how often this situation presents itself, and I'm never confidence I'm responding adequately.
posted by jefficator to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
First, don't just open doors for ladies. Open them for everyone, it's just good manners.

Second, going out of your way to open a door like in point one is very awkward and is why some people don't like having doors opened for them. It makes it seem like you are expecting something from the person you are "helping". Don't do this.

Point two is equally as awkward.

If you are holding a door for a person you are walking with, you'd have to pause to open the door anyway. This is where you'd politely hold the door for your partner. No awkwardness. Otherwise, only hold the door if you get to it first. Anything else and you are trying way too hard.
posted by Loto at 6:54 AM on January 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

It's not really an absolute given, but it is generally nice. In the situation you're describing, it might just be less awkward if you slow down so she gets to the door first, she pushes the door open, and you, behind her, kind of catch the door as it's closing with your hand. That way it stays open longer for her, it shows that you made an effort, and she gets to be nice and hold the door for you if she wants.
posted by pecknpah at 6:56 AM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you can do option 1 if you say something first so she knows where you're headed with the going out first and almost tripping her -- it should be okay if you say "Let me get that for you." Or option 2 and she can always give you a hand with the door! As a lady, I give you permission to not always hold the door.
posted by theredpen at 6:57 AM on January 19, 2011

Also, if you want to hold a door, do it for everybody, not just women. It's more polite and avoids any creepiness that might otherwise arise if you explicitly only hold doors for women.
posted by pecknpah at 6:57 AM on January 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

It is quite possible to quicken your step at the very last moment a half step, allowing you to reach the door before she does and the open it. You can also cross in front of her, allowing her to break stride, and then open the door because she would have to break stride to open the door anyways.

The thing is, you have to make the motion very smooth, continue talking with the lady while you're opening the door, and act like this is a habit engrained in your nature. It cannot feel jerky or unnatural. When/If she says "thank you", just tip your head slightly to acknowledge - saying "you're welcome" misses the point of your little exercise. If there is anyone within, say, 6 feet of the door once you open it, you must hold the door for them as well.

There are some who do not wish to have the door open for them, there are others who will prefer it. If someone obviously looks like they do not want the door opened for them, don't fight it, and let them do it. Confidence, and consistency, is key in these situations.
posted by Stynxno at 7:01 AM on January 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It's the former. Ideally you would say something like 'allow me get the door, dear lady' on approaching the aforementioned portal, so that your companion has an opportunity tp stop and allow you to go ahead, thus avoiding any embarrassing shuffling about.

The latter technique places you half-in and half-out of the doorway and your companion is thus obliged to squeeze past while you lean back in a valiant attempt not to make unseemly contact. And if you're both of a portly disposition, you may find yourselves quite wedged. Wouldn't that be a scene!
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:02 AM on January 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Neither 1 nor 2. The true gentleman is never obvious, because obvious displays are garish and make his companion feel there is some sort of trade in play. If she arrives at the door first, you can assist by helping guide the door as you follow. And never, ever cross in front -- cross behind. My southern-raised father always manages to walk on the outside side of the sidewalk, and he does the cross-behinds so casually that I was in college before I noticed the pattern.
posted by mochapickle at 7:03 AM on January 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

This might just be my personal preference, but I can't imagine I'm the only one who feels this way-- if it's not going to feel natural, or if I'm going to get to the door first and there's going to have to be a lot of awkward shuffling around and pausing, I'd reaaallly rather you just let me open the door myself.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:08 AM on January 19, 2011 [12 favorites]

If you can't do it without it being jarring and awkward it's okay not to bother. It's a minor social nicety, like saying 'bless you' when someone sneezes, and it too functions in some ways to simplify matters. If it's a pain in the ass for both parties, it defeats the purpose.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:19 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the workplace, whoever reaches the door first goes through it and holds it for the person behind.

Outside of the workplace, you hold the door, let the other person walk through, and then follow. In the workplace, if the person you are walking with is your boss, it might be politic to use this method even though the above method is technically the polite one.

Also, there are no ladies and gentlemen at the workplace. There are only coworkers. Outside of the workplace, lady precedes gentleman, but not at the cost of jamming up the traffic. In particular, gentleman for whom door is held open by lady is allowed one "no, after you, I insist" as long as it doesn't cause more than a half-second delay. Gentleman definitely doesn't stop in his tracks or, worse, organize a discussion group on the semiotics of this and whether or not it undermines any putative case for equal pay legislation while lady stands there waiting for him to just go through, already.
posted by tel3path at 7:33 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have had arguments standing outside with people while I hold a door open and they refuse to go through it because I'm female. (Not even on dates or dressed up or anything. Just friends walking around. Seriously.)

The person who is more conveniently positioned opens the door. If the door opens away from you, it is fine to walk through it and then hold it open. If A opens this door, then B will naturally be slightly ahead and can conveniently open the next one. Exceptions are obvious.

If a door opens toward you, don't stand directly behind the person opening it. The next time this happens, I'm going to stomp backward as firmly as possible.
posted by anaelith at 7:45 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

What mochapickle said.

My stepdad is big on opening doors and he is master of the cross behind. He taught me to kind of slow down and stop a bit to the left of the door if I arrived there first. Then he would move to open the door. If the woman you are with isn't slowing down and stopping slightly to the left as you reach a door she probably doesn't want you to open it for her.

This created some awkward moments in high school and college dating.
posted by ephemerista at 7:51 AM on January 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Exit first and hold the door outside. As as has been said do this for everyone unless they beat you to it. You should plan ahead to make it less awkward. Never race. If the woman wants to get there first and open the door, fine but then hold it for me.
posted by JJ86 at 7:57 AM on January 19, 2011

Yeah, just to reiterate that there are many women (I'm one) who are actually irritated and put off by men who open the door for women only. (And I imagine there's another sizable group of women who are pretty neutral on it.)

If you're already going through the door first and are in a natural position to hold it open, I don't know whether you're just being generally polite and would do this for anyone, or if you're doing it because I'm a woman, so I give you the benefit of the doubt. But if you have to break my stride or put me at an awkward angle, I'll be irritated twice over, by the clear evidence of gender bias as well as by the way you're inconveniencing me in order to feel like a "gentleman." (Although for me, the absolute worst is men who refuse to walk through doors I'm holding open for them, generally the second of a set of doors after he's held the first for me. It is ridiculous and awkward and makes me feel like the man is looking down on me and feels it belittles him to walk through a door held by a woman.)

If it were me I'd rather you just let me get the door in that kind of situation (unless my hands are full of packages or there's some other reason why I can't easily do it.) But if you must, why not just ask "Can I get that for you?" It has the dual benefit of a) letting her know what you're about to do so she can stop and you can move past her smoothly and non-awkwardly and b) letting the woman say "no, I've got it," if she doesn't want you to get it for her.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 8:02 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

If the woman you are with isn't slowing down and stopping slightly to the left as you reach a door she probably doesn't want you to open it for her.

Oh! Right! I (female) do this, but had no idea I was doing it. It depends on the mood I'm in and who I'm with and where I am - but yes, if I don't want a door opened for me, I can make it practically impossible just by being in the way.

The bottom line is that you have to be preparing for this while you're still several yards from the door - once you're a couple of feet away, it's too late and anything you do will be an awkward change of course instead of a gradual steer. If you're really walking with her (not just the two of you walking the same direction) you can steer the pair of you laterally so that you're the one in front of the door and she's off to the side. Of course, whether the door hinges are on her side or your side, and open toward or away from you, sort of defines what your maneuver actually is, but if you get ready for it before the last minute, you stand a chance at being graceful.
posted by aimedwander at 8:05 AM on January 19, 2011

JJ86: "Never race. "

Unless you're with a woman who is willing to treat it as a game. Then racing is always a go.

I just make damn sure I get to the door first.
posted by theichibun at 8:20 AM on January 19, 2011

Please be careful with the cross-behind - I have terrible peripheral vision, and people who move from one side of me to the other will actually cause me to stand stock-still and look around for them, which just increases the awkwardness of the whole door-opening situation.

We're all adults, let's use our adult words. A well-timed "Let me get the door for you" as you manouver around me at least telegraphs that you haven't mysteriously disappeared into the bushes.
posted by muddgirl at 8:52 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

theichibun, that risks all contestants getting jammed in the door in a clump of torsos and limbs. At which point the etiquette really gets interesting, especially in the workplace.
posted by tel3path at 8:56 AM on January 19, 2011

Considering that it's always just me v mrs. theichibun, it works out OK. Obviously you wouldn't want to do this with too many people.
posted by theichibun at 9:07 AM on January 19, 2011

When going out of an outward-opening door, I generally hold it for whoever I'm with, man or woman. That's because letting it slam shut on them after going through first, or doing the hand-over can be awkward, too. Well, not awkward-awkward, but well, not exactly James Bond smooth.

It actually takes both parties to make this work smoothly. The first person to think of it when the door is coming up, steps ahead with clear intention to go first. The other person recognizes that, and holds back to go second. First person goes out and turns out of the way holding the door.

A "lady," in the outdated etiquette sense, will subtly let you do that. She'll also instinctively walk to the non-hinge side of the door when approaching from the other side so that when you open it for her, she's on the right side. This all has to be as automatic and unremarkable as possible for both people, because if it looks conscious, you did it wrong.
posted by ctmf at 10:11 AM on January 19, 2011

I think it is the thought that matters. If you open the door for me, I will probably appreciate it. If it is awkward, I will probably think it is cute. This is dependent on you having previously made a good impression. You're fine.
posted by hepta at 10:53 AM on January 19, 2011

I hold doors for everyone. It's just a matter of doing what is natural in the situation. Vocalizing, "let me get the door for you" is something I'd more say to a stranger since most people don't expect help.

Single door is pretty hard to butcher. You maybe feel like you didn't do the right thing but at the end of the day it's just a door opening.

Some people like opening doors for themselves so if you want to you can just assist opening from behind and move on.
This is aided by being tall. You can have someone reach the door before you but depending on the swing you can naturally push the door open from above, or grab the door from above, allowing them to enter.

If you're in a large group you can relieve the person holding the door by holding it and then just doing a simple hand gesture of, "after you."
Never make a fuss of who is going to hold the door though. If someone insists then just move on.

I think a more tricky scenario is the double door and revolving door.

For a revolving door I like to have the person enter first. Then I get in behind and push so the other person doesn't have to...being behind them means you can monitor their pace to make sure you don't push too fast and create a wheel of death.

With a double door (a door and then another door right after) the technique of push and pull from above becomes the most handy because it's hard to smoothly arrive at one door first, open it, let someone enter, and then make it to the next door first. Sometimes you can go in first, hold the door, continue holding with your finger tips while the person finishes passing through and then use and extended hand to open the other door right after.

Perform a Herculean feat of strength by attempting to open the door all the way with my extended backhand...Invariably I can't hold the door to 90 degrees

Unless you're always entering the Gates of Mordor you might want to do something about that strength problem.
posted by zephyr_words at 12:00 PM on January 19, 2011

I really wish we could rewrite door etiquette starting from scratch. And take all mention of gender completely out of the rules.

These would be my rules:

1. Whoever approaches the door first should open the door, unless obviously hindered with large packages or crutches.
2. I don't really care if you go through the door first and hold it open behind you for me, or if you step back to hold the door open for me to go first.
3. If you let someone go in front of you through the door, it would be polite of them if they let you get into the line first (in a bank or a ticket office).
4. Try very hard not to let a door slam in someone's face, regardless if they are with you or just happen to be near the door.
5. Never, never, never NEVER push an outward-facing door open and stand halfway in the doorway while insisting that the (likely overweight) person behind you goes through while you are still in the doorway with your arm extended through it. Instead, just go all the way through and hold the door on the other side.
posted by CathyG at 1:18 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

What geegollygosh said. For the love. of. god.
posted by grapesaresour at 3:59 PM on January 19, 2011

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