I popped into a local baker’s this morning to buy a bun. As I was closing the door behind me, I saw a couple about to come in so held the door open for them.
The couple passed down to a display cabinet at the end of the shop while I stood by the main display. When the shop assistant came out, she spoke to the couple first. It didn’t make much difference to me as the couple were deliberating on what to buy, so the assistant served me.
As I was leaving the shop, there was a group of people standing right outside the door. I paused to see who was going where, but nobody moved and it appeared no one wanted to enter the shop. I carried on and heard a woman with a pushchair say: “Thank you for holding the door open.” I realised that she had been waiting for me to do this and I would have done, as that is why I paused to assess the situation, but did not pick this up. It was too late to open the door for her now and I apologised.
It reminded me that, however aware we try to be, we cannot always know what other people are doing or want us to do. This is always a challenge, especially in busy towns or cities where we pass by so many strangers. We cannot know what everyone wants to do. The best we can do is try to be helpful when stopping for a second lets someone pass or holding open a door for a second makes it easier for someone to go through it.
This morning I got it wrong. I hope it’s a rare instance.
• Robert Zarywacz is courtesy consultant for the National Campaign for Courtesy. As well as focusing on courtesy in daily life, he believes in the importance of courtesy in business and the workplace and manages pleaseandthanks.co.uk