Beware the Doorflowers

I wrote this some time for the New York Times‘s “Complaint Box” column, but the editors weren’t into it; I like to think it was too edgy. Anyway, I never figured it was all that right for Tribeca Citizen until the other day, when I had to go to the Church Street post office, and lo and behold….

It’s time for people to start pushing their weight.

Note that I said pushing, not pulling. I’m not talking about contributing to the workforce. I’m talking about revolving doors.

I’ve been watching for years now, and an outrageous number of people think it’s acceptable to enter a revolving door, look sneakily behind them (or check in the reflection) to verify someone is there, and go limp at the wrists. They stare straight ahead, perhaps fiddling with their bag or phone or scarf, but they don’t push. They become what I call “doorflowers.”

Many will even raise their hands to the door as if they’re pushing. They fake it—I know, because I’ll stand there behind them, waiting instead of pushing. The attempt at deception only proves that doorflowers are fully aware of what they should be doing.

I once raised the issue with colleagues, who initially denied that they would ever do such a thing. I persisted, and the excuses came out: The doors are heavy; the doors are dirty. Yes, the doors are heavy—that’s why they must be pushed. And the doors are probably germy. Think of them as one more good reason to wash your hands.

I don’t claim to be the most gallant man on earth, but I do hold regular doors open for women. I’m borderline religious about letting women off of elevators first. And I’ve even been known to stand up when a female dining companion returns to the table. In the case of doors and elevators, the gestures aren’t just polite, they bring order to a potentially chaotic situation. (You can imagine how confused I was in Japan, where men are expected to exit elevators first.) And so it pains me—and puts me at risk of being accused of not only ungentlemanliness but misogyny—to point out that women are the worst offenders.

Being chivalrous is like giving a little gift, a token of respect. As with any gift, however, if the recipient seems to expect it, the pleasure of giving evaporates. Doorflowers are presuming the gift: They’re no different from someone who walks through a held-open door without acknowledging the person doing the holding. Except most of the time I hold open a regular door, I get thanked. Doorflowers are gone before I’ve even made it through—and in any event, they can’t thank me because they’re pretending they pushed.

Last spring, my 10-year-old niece visited from California. She lives in the suburbs, to put it kindly, and so she doesn’t have a lot of experience with revolving doors. We were leaving the Chrysler Building lobby, and I was crabby at the prospect of having to go to American Girl and Dylan’s Candy Bar, so when the man ahead of me in the revolving door spontaneously lost the use of his arms, I gave the door a substantial push. The back half of the door slammed into the rear end of my niece, who was behind me. I felt terrible, but I turned it into a teachable moment. It’s fair to say that Allie will never become a doorflower.


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