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Monday, September 26, 2011

Door Etiquette

You might think that door etiquette is common sense...I'm always surprised at the number of people who don't know about it.  The following is my repertoire of polite things to do when a door is involved.

Knocking on a Door
There is so much to consider when selecting the appropriate door knock (or electing not to knock, or choosing the door bell as the case may be).  I feel that situation comes first: Emergency???  First Date??? Unexpected???  Long-time friend who practically has a key???, followed by time of day and whether it is an internal or an external door.  Other factors may come into play but those are the top 3.  I will now introduce several possible situations and go on to explain how the time of day and door location factor in.

[Let me first note that if there is a storm door, it is appropriate to open that door and knock on the inner one.  Then, CLOSE the storm door before the person arrives so that there is a barrier.  If they want you to come in, they will open the storm door for you and say "come in".]

Emergency:  If it's an Emergency, you should just knock as loud as you can and maybe yell the person's name and "It's an Emergency!" to emphasize that it is An Emergency.  Time of day and type of door is irrelevant.  Unless breaking down the door is determined to be necessary, and then you will need to select your strategy based on the composition of the door (e.g. do not try to bust through an aluminum door with your shoulder; try a fireman's axe.  Or a grenade.)

Unexpected Guest:  So maybe you were out riding around and decided you hadn't seen your friend in a while, or maybe you're a nosy neighbor and you want to find out what's been going on in the kitchen at night when those weird lights are emanating from the window over the sink.  In any case, you are unexpected.  It's best not to be unexpected when it's dark out.  If you have to be, you should try to announce yourself when you knock or ring the bell so the inhabitant is not all freaked out.  If they know it's you on the other side of the door, the whole experience will be less nerve-wracking.  Provided you are able to arrive during the day, ring the doorbell or knock accordingly.  A nice solid knock.  And wait.  If they don't answer the door, it's appropriate to knock a second time ("Did you hear someone at the door?  No?  Ok.") but a second knock is unmistakable.  If no one responds after two bouts of knocking, they are busy, not home, or don't want to talk to you.  If they do answer the door, apologize for being unexpected and ask if it is a good time.  Mean it when you ask if it is a good time and do not force yourself upon them.  If there is any hesitation, offer to come back at another time.  Now that I think of it, you should bring a gift on an unexpected visit.  Wine is a good option so they can start drinking it to take the edge off in the case they really don't want to deal with you.

Long-time friend who practically has a key:  Or maybe you do have a key.  If you get a key, you should set entry expectations immediately.  So, should I just use this to check on the pets when you're out of town or can I stop by and help myself to a beer in the fridge?  Should I call first?  If you invite me over and I'm on time, I'll just walk in so you don't have to get up to answer the door.

First Date:  Well, you do not want to be too timid, nor too forceful, and you do not want to knock too rapidly (are you late?  in a hurry?) nor too slow (are you slow?).  A nice strong three-knock arrival is best.  One or two are too few (was that a knock?  or am I just hearing things because I want him/her to arrive already?  Do I open the door and risk that he or she is just coming up the walk/down the hall?).  Meanwhile, you're on the outside wondering whether the person left and locked the door because they don't want to date you and if you knock again, you will appear desperate?  So awkward.  Any more than three is too many - can't you wait for me to get to the door??  Rhythmic knocking? Please no.  Please, please no.  Timing: the person will be expecting you because of course, you will be on-time for your first date.  And, you best not be knocking on an inner door, creepster.

Door Position
It's striking how many people actually do not realize that door position means something!  Yes, it does.  OK:  If the door is wide open, it's like an open invitation.  You may knock lightly on your way into the room as a polite gesture but if it's open, it's open and in you go.  But, what if the door is only half-open?  It probably means the person is busy or doesn't really want to be disturbed but they don't want to totally shut people out, either.  This deserves a knock and a pretty good reason for interrupting whatever they are doing.  A cracked door means you should only interrupt the person if it is really, really important.  The person may be on the phone, or working, or have someone else in the room with them, and they don't really want to be disturbed.  So, obviously if the door is closed, you best have a good reason for knocking.  Like if your roommate's aunt comes by and you don't want to deal with her: wake him up.  The famous closed with a sock on the knob means you really, really should not interrupt.  Even if it is an Emergency, you might want to think twice or try to delay your knock.  Important things are happening in there.  Try to wait (but not too close to the door for fear of being accused of listening in.  Or worse, hearing something you will never, ever be able to get out of your head.)

Holding Doors
The etiquette for holding a door has changed over the years.  In some cases, women's rights have really improved the world.  In this case, men are using the fact that we have rights to make us open the door for them.  Current etiquette seems to require that whoever gets to the door first opens and holds it, unless someone elderly or disabled is involved, and then that person should never open or hold the door.  I personally am advocating for men to step back up and be the person who opens and holds the door.  In general, you're bigger than us.  Doors are heavy.  You also don't wear heels (usually).  Opening a heavy door while wearing heels is super-awkward.  So, if you want us to make our legs look nice by wearing heels, you best get a move on.  If you don't want to be that guy who always holds the door, offending the few women that insist on equality in the world of door-opening, here's a great excuse: you most likely have longer legs so you will almost always make it to the door first if you try

The other thing to consider when holding a door is how far away the other person is when you open the door.  I'd like to think I have perfected this.  If they are rushing toward the building or if they are carrying something awkward or bulky, hold the door.  If they are far away and taking their time and not looking at you, go ahead and close it behind you.  If the person is within a reasonable distance (meaning that you can clearly see their facial expression), then go ahead and hold it but be prepared to make conversation starting when they are about 20-30 feet away so they do not feel rushed.  You don't want them to try to hurry up and wipe out.  That's way more awkward than too-long door holding.

Using the Hole Created by an Open Door
Observe "IN" and "OUT" signs.  Public doors are supposed to open out, in case there's a fire in the building.  I'd say as a general rule, people heading in the direction that the door swings should go first.  So, people on their way out of a building come out before others go in.  Inner doors can be a little tricky but use the same principle.  If you're on the side where you'd have to push the door open, you should go first.  The exception is if the other person is elderly or disabled, or if you're a guy and you want to accept the fact that women's rights does not really mean that you get to go first.

Regarding open doors on elevators and subways:  WAIT UNTIL EVERYONE GETS OFF BEFORE YOU TRY TO GET ON, PEOPLE.  I MEAN IT.

Please Close the Door
Unless you live in a barn.  When in doubt, I usually close the door, or start to close it and say "would you like me to close the door?".  Outer doors should almost always be closed upon exit, unless there's a screen door involved.  It's ok to leave the inner door open if there's a screen door to keep the bugs out, and especially if the inner door was open when you arrived (hopefully announced).  Now that I think about it, even barn doors should be closed at times.  Like at the end of the day so the cows don't roam all over the place in the dark.  Cows need sleep, too.

Slamming Doors 
I would think long and hard before you decide to slam a door.  If it's a car door and it shuts hard, then fine.  If it's your bedroom door and you're trying to make a point in a fight with your parents, sibling, or significant may not want to do that.  You could get their finger stuck.  Then you have to spend the afternoon at the hospital getting x-rays.  You could cause something to fall off the wall.  Then you have to spend your afternoon cleaning it up, repairing it, and/or buying a new one to replace it.  In either case, you're out both time and money.  Nobody wins.

These are what I view as the major door situations and what to do.  I'm sure there are other random situations but I'm confident that with this new set of skills, you'll be able to infer what to do.  Just slow down a bit and take into account as many factors as you can.  If it feels awkward, it probably is, and you should just apologize and try something else the next time.  Sometimes talking about it helps.


  1. Hey, thanks for the tutorial!! But may I ask you something? How much time do I have to wait before knocking for the second time on the door of somebody I don´t know, but it´s waiting for me (like a doctor appointment)?

    Thanks a lot!! This was both useful and funny!

  2. When approaching the house of a friend or relative, which door should you knock on, front door or back? This assumes that there are no barriers between you and the back door, or it is a side door that is as accessible as the front door?

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  5. How about waiting 5 secs or so before locking door, as to not startle ones recent guest with their impressive hand strength; better yet watching your recent visitor make it safely to their car or out of sight

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