Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Do I Have to Open the Door for Everyone?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was standing at the curb in front of a restaurant, and my attention was more focused on the parking lot than the front door, approximately 15 feet away from me. An older woman walked up to the door and said pointedly in my direction, “In my day, young men were expected to open doors for their elders.”

I do make a point of opening doors for ladies, the elderly, the disabled, people carrying or pushing things, etc., when I am passing through a door at nearly the same time as them, or am standing close to the door for some other reason.

Presumably, if I had been standing at the other side of the parking lot, I would not have been expected to sprint over to open the door. But at what distance am I required to move to the door to open it for someone if I am not already within arm’s length of it?

GENTLE READER: The maximum distance that requires intervention is measured not in feet, but in the less precise metrics of your attention and the other person’s need.

You cannot be expected to act on a situation of which you are unaware, and the presumption that this is the case grows with distance. An intervening driveway diminishes your responsibility. However, an elderly person who is struggling, and failing, to balance packages and a heavy door increases your responsibility to intervene.

Someone who has enough spare energy to be able to criticize the behavior of passersby -- a rude, not to mention energy-consuming, task -- rates somewhat lower. If you can plausibly appear not to have heard the woman’s remark, then Miss Manners agrees you can go about your business. If not, she can only thank you for performing an otherwise thankless task.