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Being the Perfect Citizen

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I’m going to admit up front that I don’t have perfect etiquette. Sometimes when I’m eating I’ll make a comment when I still have some food left to be chewed that I shove off to the side of my mouth. Other times I change lanes in the freeway without signaling, not quite cutting someone off, but I think to myself maybe they would have appreciated some warning.

So what does it take to be the so-called “perfect citizen?” Maybe I should start with what it means to have that prestigious title, at least in my eyes. I guess it starts off with being something called “considerate.”

As an example, I went to the local YMCA in my hometown this morning to swim a few laps and at least pretend like I was getting in shape. It was about 10 o’clock in the morning and I was heading towards the door when I noticed this woman holding a baby and trying to get her two younger children through the door. She had her hands full, what with the baby trying to sliver out of her grasp and the required baby bag with essential goodies also strapped around her other shoulder. Add to that the grappling younger siblings, the consistent “Mark, Melissa! Stop that!” warnings and the baby beginning to wail out loud, and you basically had a scene developing outside the YMCA.

I was probably no more than 10 feet away when I noticed at least three men before me rush through the door before her, trying to get away from the stampede.

Whatever happened to holding the door open for a lady as you’re walking in? Granted, this was a somewhat special case, but I went ahead and held the door open for her so she could wrangle her group into the building while another woman passing by offered to help carry her bag as she went into the YMCA also.

What exactly are the rules behind holding the door open for someone? Does it have to be a woman? Does she have to be amazingly beautiful?

I’m not telling anyone how they should act, but there are certain circumstances where I think I should always hold the door open for someone else. One is for an elderly individual, especially someone who looks particularly frail. They always appreciate a helping hand, especially for those doors that don’t open automatically and tend to be particularly difficult to swing open. I also always open the door for someone who happens to be in a wheel chair or crutches, or who would appear to have difficulty opening a swinging door.

In general, I hold the door open for anyone who is a few feet behind me and appears to be heading to the same place I am. I think it’s just a nice gesture, and usually if you don’t the door seems to slam even faster and you create more work for the person behind you to 1) catch the closing door and then 2) open it back up which always seems to take more strength than if the door was closed to begin with due to the changing momentum.

While I think most people do this, I have seen so many instances where doors were basically shut in people’s faces. We’re all in a hurry and we all have places to go, and sometimes we’re not in the optimum state of mind to be thinking about these little things, but when you open a door in a public venue would it be courteous to look behind you for one moment to see if you could hold the door open for someone? It’s almost second nature for me at this point.

How about when people are driving on a busy street and it’s a green light, yet you can’t move forward past the green light because there’s so much traffic in front of you. Let’s take a quiz on what you would do. Would you:

a) Wait patiently at the green light for traffic to flow forward
b) Curse silently and turn up the volume on your Kenny G CD to help ease your nerves
c) Honk your horn endlessly to no avail (and to no use) to get traffic to move forward
d) Drive past the green light anyways, blocking the intersection for crossing traffic as they get the green light and ignore the inevitable honking horns

I think I do a combination of (a) and (b), while (c) gets no love from me because my horn doesn’t sound vicious enough and the sound would annoy me. But the people that do (d) really strike me as being inconsiderate. And I know we’ve all been in this situation, and sometimes factors are out of control. Sometimes cars will use the fact that we’re stopped at a green light to try to turn into our lane, and cars will continue to follow suit unless you’re aggressive to get in front of them. But barring that, why would you block an entire lane of traffic that wouldn’t otherwise be blocked? Now you’re holding up everyone, and what purpose is that serving?

Is the prevailing attitude in this case that, “Well, I’m being held up, so you guys might as well wait too?”

I was stuck in a situation like that the other day, and the woman that was blocking me from crossing (as well as probably ten other cars behind me) simply glances at me and holds up her hand nonchalantly, making a poor attempt to say she’s sorry. You’re sorry? What good is that going to do? You’re already holding traffic up, you knew exactly what was going to happen, and on top of that you don’t even look remorseful. That’s when I really wish I had a button that would stamp the words “Bad Citizen” on her car. Yeah, that would show them!

But seriously, it’s little things like that which really make me wonder whether we let the fact that we’re having a bad day affect other people. All we have to do is to keep in mind how our actions will affect others before we act and we could avoid making our bad day into someone else’s bad day.

Bottom line is that being considerate isn’t always recognized. Actually, it’s a down right thankless job. But people always remember the jerks who block the intersection, who slammed that door in our face, and who forgets to flush the toilet in the public restroom after they have unleashed the unholy armies of Hell onto that seat. But that last one is a story I’ll save for another day. I’ll just end by asking…

…so how do you want to be remembered?

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About Tamster

  • Eric Olsen

    all we can do is do our best and answer to ourselves – thanks and welcome Tam!

  • A lot of people (men) got turned off of holding doors open for women years ago, but even more use that as an excuse. Me, I hold doors open for everybody, male and female, so nobody can excuse me of pandering.

    Er, pandering on the basis of gender, at least.

  • Nancy

    I do, too. Hold doors for everyone, that is. That’s what I was taught to do by my parents & the other 300 or so people who had a hand in raising me, teachers, neighbors, grandparents, grandparents’ neighbors, etc. etc. I don’t see people doing that any more – helping bring up kids that aren’t their own – probably because everyone’s afraid of a lawsuit. I was in a grocery a few weeks ago, & a kid was giving his mother some extremely rude sass. I put a look of (unfeigned) horror on my face, and said something to the effect of, “What are you doing, talking to your mom like that? You ought to be ashamed! How RUDE!” & passed on. The kid was young enough to shut up because a total stranger had talked to him, & I hope the mother got the message, too.

  • While it is the nice thing to, and I do try to go out of my way to be considerate to others, there is an inherent sexism to this idea. Rarely do women hold doors open for me, even if my hands are full. Is it because I’m a guy and I can “handle” it? Consideration should happen on both sides, but if women expect to be helped, then they should return the favor.

  • Nancy

    No, I think it means most people are rude & inconsiderate. I hold doors for men, women, kids, old people, dogs, etc.

  • That could also be true.

  • Tam Hoang, you’re like the Vietnamese Garrison Keillor.

    They should really have a safe, family-friendly sitcom called “Everyone Loves Hoang.”

    I am, believe it or not, a very courteous driver, door-holder, and toilet-flusher.

    I don’t nose in on people’s affairs unless someone’s like abusing their kid or their girlfriend or some other helpless, innocent person. Then we have a problem. I’m always the idiot who breaks up fights for some reason.

    That is all.