Author Topic: S/O Do you knock first? Regional variations in dealing with closed doors.  (Read 2714 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Onyx_TKD

  • Hero Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1363
This thread has a discussion on how to check whether a restroom with a closed door is occupied--knock on the door or try the handle to see if it's locked?

When I did an exchange program in Germany, I noticed that there seem to be some significant regional/cultural differences in how to deal with closed doors. I thought it would be interesting to see what the norms are in different countries and regions.

So in your experience with various types of rooms:
1) Is the door usually left open or kept closed?
2) If the door is closed, what is it customary to do when you need to enter? Knock, try the handle, something else?
Please specify the region you're describing when you answer. Feel free to add additional information and categories of doors.

Southeast USA/southern CA USA
  • Home Bathrooms: Ofter kept fully or partially open when unoccupied. May or may not be equipped with locks; many people don't use the locks even when present. If the door is closed, it's customary to knock and see if someone responds before trying the door. (Trying the door without knocking is likely to result in walking in on someone who didn't lock the door.)
  • Public restrooms: Usually kept closed even when unoccupied. Always equipped with locks and expected to be locked when in use. Usually don't have any visual indication of whether it is vacant or occupied. Some people knock; others try the handle to see if it's locked.
  • Offices: It's common to leave the door left partially or fully open when visitors are welcome. A closed door often indicates that the occupant is either away or busy. If the door is closed, it's customary to knock and wait for a response--either the occupant opening the door or a verbal invitation to enter. It is also usual to knock when the door is only partially open.
  • House/apartment doors: Usually kept closed. It's customary to knock/ring the doorbell and wait for a response, unless you've already been invited to "just come on in."

bloo

  • Hero Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1297
I'm in Midwestern America, Northeast Ohio specifically, but I'm from the South.

I always knock on any closed doors unless there is some kind of signage indicating to do otherwise.

White Lotus

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 491
At home, we keep our bathroom doors "to" which means not quite closed, so you don't get the bad feng shui of leaving it open, and also don't have to stare at plumbing fixtures, but can still tell just by looking if the room is in use.  If it is, of course, the door is fully and unmistakably closed.  Some single people fully close their bathroom doors even when the room is empty, so if one has been around, or if I am in someone else's house, I will knock, even if I think I know where everyone is. I have also noticed that some people, invariably women IME, and usually single, will pull the door to or even leave it partially or completely open when using the facilities so they can keep talking, if only women are present.  I would prefer they didn't. 
We leave all toilet lids down.  Again, bad feng shui (luck runs down the drains) but also keeps things from falling in and dogs using toilets for drinking bowls.

sunnygirl

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 262
In England (or at least in London), public bathroom stalls don't have door handles, so they tend to only close completely when locked. It's usually easy to tell if they're in use or not. Many have little sliding things or colour-coded things that show if the door is in use. The exception being single-use bathrooms (not bathrooms with multiple stalls) in which case if they weren't left ajar or had a colour showing, you'd knock. But multiple stalls is probably more common than single-use.
« Last Edit: March 14, 2013, 12:23:18 AM by sunnygirl »

marcel

  • Hero Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2013
The Netherlands.

All doors have locks (except when broken etc.
Doors are usualy left closed, both at home and in the office (at home definitely when there are guests)
People usualy just try the door (knocking only if there is serious doubt if there is actualy somebody in there)
Most doors have occupied/unoccupied (usualy just coloured red/white) indicators, however I they are sometimes defunct so I don't trust them, but just try the door instead.

The strangest thing for me in many places the US is that people normaly leave the bathroom door open. People tend to produce unpleasant smells in the bathroom, and by keeping the door open, those smells are spread around throughout the house I would think.

Also, personaly I hate it when people knock, since it forces me to talk to people while I am doing my business.


As for other doors.

office doors are usualy left open to indicate people can just walk in. When closed, knock and wait for an answer.

home/apartment doors are usualy closed. Houses normaly have doorbells, if not, try knocking.
Wherever you go..... There you are.

AylaM

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 326
I've spent most of my life moving between Hawaii and Washington DC

For restroom doors:
At home:  Doors are left open when not in use - so people know it is free to use. If the door is closed and you think it may be empty we tend to knock lightly and then try the handle without waiting for a response.  Unless there is company or we are company, in which case there is a pause between knocking and trying the door knob, but we still don't specifically wait for a response.

Public restrooms:  I stand back and look for feet first, so I don't knock.  And doors are usually ajar when not in use

For office doors:
Open means you can drop in.  Closed means busy (at least in my offices/schools)

Home doors:
Knocking/ringing unless the relationship between people allows you to do otherwise.  We walk straight into grandmas house and when I'm with my mother I walk straight into her brothers' houses.  They do the same to her.

MariaE

  • Hero Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 4626
  • So many books, so little time
Dane here.

Private bathroom: Door slightly ajar when unoccupied. Is almost always equipped with lock, but not always used. The light switch is almost always outside, so if the door is closed you check the light. If it's turned on you leave and come back later (or do a quick headcount to see if anybody accidentally left it on).

Public restrooms: Kept closed even when not in use. Always has some visual indicator of whether it's locked or not.

Offices: Closed door = don't disturb. Door slightly ajar = knock first. Door fully open = Visitors welcome.

House/apartment doors: Kept closed and - depending on area - locked. Customary to knock / ring the doorbell unless you have the kind of relationship where you just walk in.
 
Dane by birth, Kiwi by choice

Melle

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 432
Onyx, I'd like to hear of your experiences in Germany, because I'm from there and I'm curious if there are even finer differences within the country itself :)

Southern Bavaria, Germany:

* Home Bathrooms: Usually closed and equipped with locks. If there's only family present and everyone knows you're in there, the door is closed but might not be locked, depending on how close you are with your family. Though everybody usually locks for No. 2 ;)
If guests are present, doors are always locked when in use. If the door is closed and you can't know from outside if there's somebody inside, you try the handle. If you're inside and forgot to lock, this is the point where you shout "Occupied!" and hope the person outside hears you in time ;)
Generally, there's no knocking involved unless a person has been in there an unusual amount of time and you want to know if they're okay.

* Public restrooms: Usually open when unoccupied, always equipped with locks, most of which show from the outside when someone's inside. There are often just knobs instead of handles, so if the door is closed but the lock shows "unoccupied" (usually by means of a white or green stripe), you push and see if the door budges. There's no knocking.

* Offices: Doors are usually closed. Knocking is the norm; if there's no answer, you may try the handle and sneak a peek inside to ask if you may enter. People usually won't do the latter if they can hear a conversation going on inside and don't want to interrupt as that's considered rude. If the door is open, it's customary, but not mandatory, to knock on the open door before entering.

* House/apartment doors: Closed and locked. Ringing the bell is the first thing you try and at an apartment building door, this is as far as you can go. Ringing multiple times is usual, but it starts coming off as "odd" if you try more than three times. If you are in front of the actual apartment door or the door of a single occupancy house and have really urgent business, you may try knocking, but it could be considered rude.

Ginger G

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 347
I actually posted a topic about my office door a while back in All in a Day's Work.

Background - I work in Human Resources.  It is typical for me to eat lunch at my desk.  I have learned the hard way to close my door while I'm eating.  For example, I was eating a fairly messy burger one day and an employee came in with no advance warning and wanted me to notarize a document.  She got huffy when I suggested it would be better if she returned after I had a chance to finish lunch and wash my hands.  After that I always made sure to close my door while eating.  We also close the door sometimes for confidential meetings.  Also, my door locks automatically when it's closed due to the confidential nature of much of my work.  Occasionally when the door has been closed, someone will knock on it, at that point I will open it and politely let them know that they will need to return later.  However, I'm sure most people see a closed HR door and realize we're not available at that moment.

So this was this sitation I posted about:  I was sitting there finishing lunch one day.  All of a sudden the door knob starts turning and rattling loudly.  There was no knock prior, the person just walked up, saw the door closed and tried to open it to come on in.  I got up and opened the door to see who it was just in time to see the person turning the corner.  I was able to determine who it was.  Frankly, I was a little shocked by this and thought it was pretty rude, but I posted to get others' opinions.  The consensus was fairly mixed but from what I recall, most agreed that it was on the rude side.  The "twist" is that this person is Russian (I live in the Southeast USA), so I decided to chalk it up to a possible cultural difference, but I'm not really sure. 

The funny thing is this same person did the same thing just a couple of weeks ago.  I happened to be walking toward the door to open it, when the knob starts turning and rattling again.  I opened the door and she was standing there with a form to give me.  This time I told her (politely) that when the door is closed that means we are not available and it might be better to call or email us first.

daen

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 737
Canada: Prairies here.

I haven't noticed a definite trend here. I've seen about equal numbers of people who knock and who check the door handle of a public washroom.

For home bathrooms, locks are standard, although not always used. Doors may be open, closed, or just ajar. People may knock, try the door, or interpret some combination of door closed/light on/fan running as "bathroom in use" and not try anything at all. (This led to a few interesting moments when my sister first started d@ting my future brother-in-law: we were door open/don't check if door is closed people, and my FBIL was a door closed/knock loudly person. There were a few times when we waited unnecessarily before we figured that out.)

bopper

  • Super Hero!
  • ****
  • Posts: 12366
We have a German Exchange student and having lived in Germany before, one of the first things we told her was "If you are done with the bathroom, leave the door open otherwise we think someone is in there."

Germans in general keep their doors closed...even in offices.  If you go to a government office, they will keep the door closed.  They don't have a receptionist who directs you to a private office, they have a counter to serve you, but it is behind a closed door. You have to peak in, see if anyone is in there, then if there is, excuse yourself. I reallllllllllly didn't like that!

Lynn2000

  • Super Hero!
  • ****
  • Posts: 5250
Interesting thread! US Midwest here.

I would say we generally keep our home bathroom doors fully open or partially (but obviously) open when not in use. If the door is closed, we would assume someone is in there. (At my parents' house, there's a window in the bathroom that my mom leaves open in good weather, and sometimes the breeze blows the bathroom door shut. As it's the only bathroom, I sometimes do a quick headcount to see if anyone is likely to be in there.) Not all home bathroom doors have locks, and even the ones that do, not everyone uses them or they really don't work that well; so if I had need to check on a bathroom, I would knock first, and maybe even call out, before trying to open the door. I definitely don't want to walk in on anyone!

As to smells permeating the house, I've never really noticed this, but I might just be used to it. A lot (but not all) home bathrooms have exhaust fans and/or windows, which might help with that (if people use them). The exhaust fan usually comes on automatically with the light, or is a second switch right next to the light switch. With company around I always use the fan when I'm in the bathroom, not so much for the smell as to add extra noise so they can't hear what I'm doing (or so I like to think).

I would say that generally in a home, if a door is shut it means guests shouldn't go in that room. For example people might shut the door to a bedroom they don't want people in (either because it's private, or just a mess!). Exceptions (doors which are usually always shut, but might be okay for guests to open) include closet doors and those to other storage areas (if you need to get something out, like your coat) and doors to the outside/non-climate-controlled areas like the garage.

Slightly farther afield, I would say that generally guests are expected to stay on the main floor of the house with the "public" rooms (kitchen, dining room, formal living room), and not go either upstairs or downstairs (basement underground) where the "private" rooms are (family bedrooms, informal living room), unless directed by the host. For example, when I go to family gatherings, I keep an eye on the powder room on the first floor (usually the only bathroom on that floor) and use that when needed; I know there are one or more additional bathrooms upstairs with the bedrooms, but my sense is I ought not to go up there unless there's a problem.

Personally I don't like the public restrooms that are just one big bathroom with a single toilet; I'd rather have stalls where I/other people can look for feet or easily ask if someone's in there. I've had a few embarrassing experiences where the lock on the door hasn't worked properly (there's always a lock, but maybe not a functioning one) and I've noticed that people tend to just try the door rather than knocking first. It's weird, because at home they'd probably see a closed bathroom door as occupied; but in a public restroom, sometimes those doors close automatically or the staff periodically close them to avoid the unsightly bathroom view, so you can't assume a closed door means someone is in there. I'm also always worried that I'll call out, "Just a minute!" when someone knocks/tries the door, but they won't be able to hear me (the fans in public restrooms are often industrial-strength rattlers).

Office doors are variable, IME. My friend who has her own office always keeps her door shut and locked, with a sign saying to knock (at which point she has to get up and let the person in). On the other hand my boss (who is slightly claustrophobic) almost always has her door open unless she's having a private meeting, at which point we shouldn't disturb her unless it's an emergency; her door also has a window in it, so we can easily see if she's there or if the door is shut because she's gone home. If I came upon a closed door with no instruction that I thought was someone's office, I would knock first. If I got no response I would probably try the door, thinking I might not have heard them. I think I would be kind of embarrassed if I were "caught" trying a door without knocking first, it would be like I was trying to sneak in--to me, knocking shows that I'm trying to announce my presence and find out if it's okay to proceed.

The homes I go to are usually places where I'm expected, like for a family gathering, so the door is unlocked and people are expected to walk right in. Occasionally I've been startled by a locked door on these occasions, and it usually turns out to be some weird exception, like there's a child who's tall enough to open the door but shouldn't be going out, so the parents just locked the door to keep them in. Otherwise I think these days, most people I know keep the outside doors to their homes locked, so unexpected visitors have to somehow get the homeowner's attention (ringing bell, knocking, etc.) before they can be let in. Some people only keep the door locked if they're gone or asleep, leaving it unlocked when they're home and awake.

Personally I always keep the door to my apartment locked unless I'm actually walking through it, but I'm kind of paranoid that way. In the college dorms I'm familiar with, the culture is to prop your room door open (when present and awake), and people pop in and out of friends' rooms, hang out in the hallway, etc.. My apartment building is on a college campus and primarily consists of students, and sometimes it takes them a few weeks to realize that the building does not operate the same way--we would prefer people keep their doors shut to contain noise, and NOT congregate in the hallway (also noisy).

Apparently I have a lot of thoughts about doors.
~Lynn2000

Alpacas

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 120
Onyx, I'd like to hear of your experiences in Germany, because I'm from there and I'm curious if there are even finer differences within the country itself :)

Southern Bavaria, Germany:

* Home Bathrooms: Usually closed and equipped with locks. If there's only family present and everyone knows you're in there, the door is closed but might not be locked, depending on how close you are with your family. Though everybody usually locks for No. 2 ;)
If guests are present, doors are always locked when in use. If the door is closed and you can't know from outside if there's somebody inside, you try the handle. If you're inside and forgot to lock, this is the point where you shout "Occupied!" and hope the person outside hears you in time ;)
Generally, there's no knocking involved unless a person has been in there an unusual amount of time and you want to know if they're okay.

* Public restrooms: Usually open when unoccupied, always equipped with locks, most of which show from the outside when someone's inside. There are often just knobs instead of handles, so if the door is closed but the lock shows "unoccupied" (usually by means of a white or green stripe), you push and see if the door budges. There's no knocking.

* Offices: Doors are usually closed. Knocking is the norm; if there's no answer, you may try the handle and sneak a peek inside to ask if you may enter. People usually won't do the latter if they can hear a conversation going on inside and don't want to interrupt as that's considered rude. If the door is open, it's customary, but not mandatory, to knock on the open door before entering.

* House/apartment doors: Closed and locked. Ringing the bell is the first thing you try and at an apartment building door, this is as far as you can go. Ringing multiple times is usual, but it starts coming off as "odd" if you try more than three times. If you are in front of the actual apartment door or the door of a single occupancy house and have really urgent business, you may try knocking, but it could be considered rude.
Parking my Pod here, also from south Bavaria, Germany

In addition but probably not always the norm:

* Office environment: Usually the doors are kept open. The doors are only closed for phone calls and meetings and on rare times because the occupant of the office wants to gossip with another one. Knocking and waiting for a reply is recommended.

*government offices (Courthouses): Usually have a front desk where you ask where you have to go for your specific casefiles. They direct you to the usually closed door. Knocking and waiting for a reply is the norm.
 
*government offices (city hall): front desk where you pull a number. once your number is called on the electronic sign you walk to the office that was also displayed next to your number. The doors are usually closed to give privacy to the people inside. Knocking is the norm but you're not required to wait for an answer. The knock is just to announce you're here now.

*government offices (schools/universities): have a secretary's office. These doors are usually open while they're processing student related work. They're closed when no one is in, or once they move to administrative work (usually after lunch time) No knock will rouse them. Believe me..i've tried.  ;D

sunnygirl

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 262
One thing I forgot - front doors in the UK (whether for houses or for apartments) practically always have Yale locks on them, which means they lock automatically when the door is shut. There is no keyhole on the inside (unless there's a secondary lock, which is common). You can pull down a little lever on the lock to put the door 'on the latch' which means there is nothing holding the door shut.

I always used to get very confused when American books/movies/TV shows mentioned people "leaving their doors unlocked" because I couldn't imagine how that could physically happen. When I lived in the US I used to get quite freaked out by having a front door I had to lock manually.

Onyx_TKD

  • Hero Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1363
Onyx, I'd like to hear of your experiences in Germany, because I'm from there and I'm curious if there are even finer differences within the country itself :)

All right, but I can't swear that I'm speaking for the norms of the region--like I said, it wasn't something they briefed us on; I just picked it up as I went along. Also, it's been a couple of years since I lived there, so I'm not sure how accurate all my recollections of restroom door details are.  ;)

I was in southwestern Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany.

* Home bathrooms: Always equipped with locks, usually closed even when unoccupied, always locked when occupied.
* Public restrooms: Most that I encountered had stalls that were like little closets. Instead of the American-style stall dividers that only extend from about 1ft above the floor to head height, the stalls were actually separated by floor-to-ceiling walls with a full door in a doorframe (IMO, we should import this stall style--much nicer than the ones here  :)). I think they were usually closed when unoccupied; not because people specifically closed them, but because the way they were hung caused them to naturally swing closed. They often pushed open without an external handle, like Melle described, and there was usually an indicator showing whether it was vacant (i.e. unlocked) or occupied (i.e. locked). You also often had to pay to use them (if there wasn't a set fee, there would often be an attendant who you were expected to tip).

* Offices: Doors were usually closed. Whether to knock...well, I'm still confused.  ;D
**Where I did my internship, the norm was to open the door and walk in. I always knocked lightly as a "warning," but I can't recall whether the Germans did or if that was just as far as I managed to adjust my knock-and-wait habits.  ;D This applied to our group manager's office (single occupant) as well as to shared offices where two or more of my coworkers shared the space. Incidentally, this was a university research lab and I was instructed to call everyone "du" (informal form of address) right off the bat, so it's possible this particular office was just unusually informal.
**Administrative offices at the university I attended: I'm still not quite sure what was expected. I and another American exchange student had to go talk to people who dealt with student registration (i.e., I don't think it was unusual for students to come to their offices). These were generally shared offices with two or more occupants. We knocked and waited for some type of response, but didn't hear anyone say to come in. After a short time, the occupant came to open the door, seeming rather put out that we hadn't let ourselves in. Similar things happened at different offices with different people. To this day, I'm not sure if they had answered too quietly to hear through the door, if they expected us to let ourselves in immediately after knocking, or if they expected us to walk in without knocking at all.  ??? When going back to see the same people, we knocked and then cautiously opened the door--this seemed to be acceptable.

*House/apartment door were kept closed and locked. Most of them locked automatically when closed, like the UK doors described by sunnygirl. You would ring the doorbell and wait for the door to be answered. When I went to visit my friends in apartments, I would ring the buzzer at the building door and they would usually prop the apartment door open when they hit the button to let me in, so I could walk right in once I got upstairs.

Related non-etiquette trivia:
The American embassy in Berlin has American-style toilet stalls in the restrooms. Of all the things to import from home--American style toilet stalls. ::) I still wonder who made that decision.