5 Typical Acts of Politeness That are Inefficient and Should be Banned

I understand the function of politeness and social conventions: how they make people feel at ease, how they provide a familiar, comfortable context for interactions in which all is not known. I like politeness and social conventions for this, but I think that some are inefficient and should be banned. Here are five.

When you’re waiting to cross the road and a car stops for you and holds up all traffic behind you so you can walk across – all of them now waiting for you (and staring at you) to get to the other side

When I wait at the side of the road to cross the road and you’re in your car coming my direction, please don’t stop to let me pass. I appreciate the gesture, but what you really seem to be doing is endangering yourself, breaking traffic laws, and making me uncomfortable, because I’m forced to make eye contact with you, try to smile in appreciation, and walk across the road, the whole time knowing that you and your family and your dog are sitting there watching me, judging how I look, how I walk, and wondering what kind of headphones I have on. The time it takes me to cross the road, in this situation, feels like an eternity.

What’s especially inefficient is when you stop for me on a busy two-lane road and I have to begin walking in front of you, only to realize that I have to wait for a number of cars going the other direction to pass. This situation can not by its nature have a positive outcome. The first outcome this situation can have is that I have to wait – in front of you, in the middle of the road – an inordinate amount of time, and cars behind you start piling up, all waiting on me to cross the road. What’s more likely to happen, though, is that a driver going the opposite direction sees me waiting in the middle of the road and thinks that they are now obliged to stop and let me pass.

And so now I have two, four, six cars waiting for me to pass, when the whole time I simply, innocently, and unobtrusively wanted to cross when the street was empty. Now I’m subject to the glare of innumerable eyes and the impatience of countless hearts as I try not to make eye contact and try not to ‘skitter’ across the road.

Suggestion: Just keep driving. Stop at crosswalks and red lights for pedestrians.

Holding the door open for someone when the distance between that person and the door is too large to make it worthwhile

It’s okay, really – you don’t need to sit there staring at me, compelling me to almost run, while you hold the door open for me when I’m half a block away. I can probably manage to pull the door open on my own. If I can’t – if the door’s too heavy – I’m sure there will be some other people that can help me pull its massive weight open. I appreciate when you hold the door open for me when I’m right behind you, but I would rather you not stand there waiting on me to get to the door while I’m minding my own business and having a leisurely stroll on the sidewalk. I don’t need that in my life.

Suggestion: Open the door, walk through, and let the door close behind you.

“Yes, we are definitely going to stop for a second and have that conversation that everyone has when they’re talking to someone they don’t really know in a chance sidewalk-encounter.”

Long goodbyes

I don’t know what ‘gets into’ some people at parties or social gatherings but at times they seem to become possessed by this desire or social need to extend their goodbyes with singular individuals to gigantic lengths of times that can often approach 15 or 20 minutes. These types of ‘goodbyes’ actually seem as if they’re ‘hellos,’ as if they’re invitations to have a vague surface-level conversation about a variety of topics separated by awkward bars of silence.

The real uncanny aspect of such ‘polite’ acts is the fact that during every pause in the goodbye-conversation it becomes extremely unclear whether this is the moment one will finally say, “Well, it was nice, see you guys later.” The anticipation, during these pauses when one doesn’t know if an entirely new topic is about to be introduced, such as “Oh, how’s she doing?” or “Oh yeah did you hear about what Oprah gave her audience this time?!?” is brutal. And inevitably, some side point like the aforementioned is struck up, and to the waiter’s horror, a whole new person comes into the conversation, completely unaware that a goodbye is trying to be achieved. It suddenly seems time to get another drink, because you’ve actually just said ‘hello’ – not ‘goodbye’ – and you won’t be leaving for awhile. This attempt to extricate yourself has failed.

Suggestion: Say “Goodbye,” turn around, walk out the door, and keep walking until you reach your destination.

Saying “Hi” to someone that you know you will never hang out with when you see them approaching on the sidewalk and then asking them where they are going or how that person is that you both know

If I know you but it’s obvious we’re never going to hang out exclusively and we only know each other through some mutual acquaintance, please don’t force me to stop on the sidewalk and ask me asinine questions such as “Where are you going? How has it been? How’s [name of mutual acquaintance]?” that will garner information that is useless to both you and I.

I don’t hold you at fault for this, because I understand that you’re just trying to be nice, and that it’s actually easier and more comfortable for you to stop me and start saying completely useless stuff, because I know that when we first saw each other in the distance it was unsure if we were going to stop and there was some tension involved so you thought you would be proactive and friendly and just stop and communicate to me that “Yes, we are definitely going to stop for a second and have that conversation that everyone has when they’re talking to someone they don’t really know in a chance sidewalk-encounter.”

But by stopping me what you’ve actually done is stretch the awkwardness of the fact that we actually have nothing in common and know that we will never see each other again (unless at some party or brought together by our mutual friend) out over a long, perhaps neverending (and what feels like an inescapable) period of time, and I don’t want to be here, and I don’t want to be doing this, because it will just increase the chances of us having to stop and have the same conversation in future situations such as these.

Suggestion: Make eye contact with me, nod, and keep walking.

Using capitalization, “How are you,” “Hope all’s well” and “Regards,” in emails whose sole purpose is to get a small piece of information

I really dislike the stigma against emailing someone solely for a piece of information without checking to see ‘how they’re doing’ – that it’s somehow bad to simply want to know something without wanting to know if someone is ‘good.’ Social conventions have turned an email that could, in a more efficient world, read “hey did you ever read that submission I sent last week,” which takes about 15 seconds to compose, to

Hi Patrick,

How’s everything going over in NYC? Hope it’s sweet. I’m wondering if you ever got the chance to read the submission I sent you last week titled “The Depression of Being Single vs. the Depression of Being in a Long-Term Monogamous Relationship”?

Just thought I’d ask.

Again, hope it’s going good with the magazine and all.

Brandon Scott Gorrell

Which takes about 2-4 minutes to compose, depending on your familiarity with social conventions.

Suggestion: Do not think a person unseemly if they decide not to capitalize their one-sentence, functional email that is simply asking you to give them a short piece of information. Employ the same efficient manner in your response. TC mark


More From Thought Catalog

  • jordanobscura

    I agree on all counts.

  • http://twitter.com/rislynsey christopher lynsey


  • http://onward-sailing.blogspot.com arnie

    long goodbyes are terrible, like when you are standing in the doorway and you open the door halfway but after ten minutes of doing the in/out dance you finally shut it back when you realize you're not going anywhere for a while.

    it would be much more convenient to be blunt / brief re sending email rather than sugaring it with 'how are yous', yet it seems politeness is appreciated/expected far too much (maybe?) to cut to the point without coming off as insincere. i mean, i like to be asked how i am, but i do appreciate directness. it resolves matters quickly.

  • http://timothypresence.com/ Timothy Willis Sanders

    haha…'I don’t need that in my life.'

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=505759069 Julian Tully Alexander

    Summation: Sometimes being nice is really annoying/awkward. Seems like whenever any of these things happen to me I just constantly think “Damn you [person's name].”

  • http://xojessicawhitley.com Whitley

    Awesome. Especially love the one about saying “hi” to acquaintances. Totally agree. x

  • http://twitter.com/Dan_ONeill Dan_ONeill

    Apart from capitalisation, I agree with everything else.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/brycedriesenga Bryce Driesenga


  • http://twitter.com/bgbs Ben Bibik

    The “hi” gesture on the sidewalk has always been a sign of respect and a sign of a friendly community. There is a correlation between with peoples' own life style consumption and alienation of oneself from the community with not saying “hi” to anybody.

    • Brandon Scott Gorrell

      yeah so you nod, not start up a 5-10 minute asinine conversation with someone (as the article reads)

    • 142978

      the point was not “don't say hi to me at all,” it was, “don't try to start an extended conversation if you're going to say hello.”

    • Robynbyrd

      This isn't really about a friendly community or about respect. You're reading too much into this. It's just that it's uncomfortable for both parties when you don't know someone and social convention forces you to have an awkward conversation. Acknowledging them with a smile and maybe a “hi” is completely sufficient and what is being highlighted as unnecessary is the subsequent uninformative and unenjoyable conversation.

  • http://twitter.com/john__dorian john dorian marshall

    'bsg' does it again

  • http://twitter.com/ohhleary Chris O'Leary

    In most states, you're not “breaking traffic laws” by stopping for a pedestrian. In fact, in most states, if a driver does what you're suggesting and ignores a pedestrian trying to cross, they're in violation of the law. Even if there is no crosswalk, as long as a pedestrian is crossing between two corners, they have the right of way. It's not “politeness,” it's the law.

    • aprilc21

      If a pedestrian is in the street you must yield to them but if someone is just hanging out on the curb considering crossing (especially where there is no crosswalk) it is illegal to stop for them. The reason, according to California's DMV manual, is that a pedestrian can see obstacles/reasons not to cross that a driver can't.

      • freshmango

        The way I understand and interpret that law is that if a pedestrian is making movement into the road (marked crosswalk OR 4 corner intersection) you are required to stop. As soon as you see their foot leave the curb towards the street, you should begin stopping. And anyplace two roads intersect completely (IE a 4 corner intersection) is considered a crosswalk, marked or not. At least, in Oregon.

  • Shane

    I think it's fine to capitalize the beginning of a sentence when it's a sentence, but what drives me up the damn wall is when people capitalize the first word of the acronyms “lol”, “lmao”, “rofl”, &c. (especially the first one)–*especially* when nothing follows such acronyms, save a period. People need to stop.

  • freshmango

    The only one I agree with is the long goodbye. One of the most annoying “social customs” ever started. The rest are things I would be upsest with ending.

  • Alan

    A really crappy, pointless and stupid article.

  • Clare

    You seem to be a highly socially awkward person. Why do you care if people watch as you cross the road? Unless you have a wicked bad limp.

    • http://twitter.com/john__dorian john dorian marshall


    • Ok


  • Pat

    In the name of doing away with common courtesy:

    You suck. This was an obnoxious article.

  • kiiimiko

    I'm a douchebag in general but I guess if I want give further proof for people I'll use your advice. Some, if not all, of this is just plain rude. You'd be bitching if someone did the same to you!

  • http://twitter.com/ih8lakyncarlton Lakyn Carlton

    I'm fairly confident that the people who are saying this article is “pointless” or “rude” are the people that do all of these things and just realized they're being annoying.

  • E Blunt

    If these things bother youso much, you have a real problem. Doubly so for the e-mail one. Seriously, if you can't spare 5 minutes to write a decent e-mail, just go and kill yourself.

  • deadmau5

    You're kind of an ungrateful prick, you know that right?

  • http://frenchification.tumblr.com Steph

    You're supposed to yield to pedestrians.
    The rest of the things you listed don't happen all the time, and when they do happen that person is just trying to be polite. I don't understand why these acts of politeness make you so bitchy.

  • Herzco

    Perhaps you might consider changing the title of these posts from “Thought Catalog” to “Misanthrope Catalog”

    And then you can move somewhere where niceties have been dispensed with, since they bother you so much.

    • Brandon Scott Gorrell

      did you read the introduction to this article?

  • boo you

    Um, my question: why the hell would you be waiting to cross anywhere BUT a crosswalk, and proceed to get annoyed when people stop regardless?

    oh and im sorry should i just type like this and avoid any sort of capitalization at all while were at it lets throw out all the punctuation too you know since i have such a short point to make you can understand it right and im sure i dont look like a fool

    I'm so sorry, did my proper spelling (excluding the above statement) offend you? oops!

  • http://www.bartking.net Bart King

    Thank you, Brandon. I plan on referring to this frequently.

    Also, I love the commenters who rudely slag you for being what they perceive as rude. It's a two-fer!

  • Rakiiah

    Hahaha, this was soo funny !!
    especially part about holding the door.
    And the e-mail, and the saying hi to people !
    lmfaoooo !

  • http://brianburke.tumblr.com/ brian burke

    haters should losen the hater laces on their hater converse

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