Last week, I wrote a post about politeness and how it should be extended to everyone, instead of giving women special treatment that women may find condescending (chivalry). One thing that came up repeatedly in the comments was that I should add an item for "say thank you when someone does these things." That's given, isn't it? But I disagree with having that as a rule and now I'm going to tell you why.
Go back to number 6; it says to keep your assumptions and your insults to yourself. Of course someone should thank people who do nice things for them, duh. The problem is that while it is a bit rude to neglect to say thank you, it's very rude to correct someone for that unless they are children. I'll give you an example of someone doing something like this to me recently.
I went to the bank inside the grocery store. There was a line that went past the counter that has the deposit slips. I needed one and luckily, a woman who was waiting there had left a break between her and the person in front of her, in a way that implied that it was left open so that people could grab the deposit slips. I looked her in the eye, smiled, nodded, and reached in to grab a deposit slip. She leaned over and said "you're supposed to say 'excuse me.'" I had, through body language, thanked her for leaving open a space for me to use for a moment, making saying "excuse me" not actually required. Perhaps when I thought I had made eye contact, she was zoned out and didn't notice, or perhaps she was just in a bad mood and wanted an excuse to "correct" someone. In any case, what she did was rude and she did it because my supposed rudeness justified it.
The end result was that she had wrongly, publicly corrected a stranger on her manners, in a condescending way. So what do manners dictate in that case? Well, the only options that I had were saying "excuse me" and encouraging her bad behavior, correcting her correction and thus being rude myself, or not responding. The obvious temptation was to correct her correction because in addition to being rude, she was also wrong, but that would be embarrassing to her and would really be an act of revenge, so I just gave her a hefty dose of side eye instead. I tried to walk the fine line of defending myself without embarrassing her like she'd tried to embarrass me.
One of the most common objections to my article was that I didn't say that if someone holds a door open for you, you should say thank you. Then the commenters went on to say what they routinely did to correct people who didn't do that, as loudly and shamingly as possible. Ouch. I know. I used to do it. Then one day, this guy ran around me to get a door for me, bumping me in the process, nearly knocking my purse out of one hand, and opened the door into the hand that was reaching for it, breaking one of my nails and jamming one of my fingers. I gave him the stink-eye as I walked through the door and after I passed, he called out sarcastically "you're welcome" to let everyone around us know that I am an ungrateful bitch.
Dude, not ok. Now, in this case, he actually did minor harm to me by opening the door for me, because I wasn't expecting him to. But then when I didn't react by giving him the thanks that he had earned, he had to put me in my place. Whooboy.
This is hopefully somewhat different from what would happen if you followed my advice in the politeness vs. chivalry article, since following those tips would have kept me from getting my nail broken and my finger jammed. Maybe your motivation for calling out "you're supposed to say thank you" isn't that you need to put me in my place as a woman, but it's still trying to put someone in their place. And this is where things get really messed up.
Because maybe I thanked you with body language and you missed it. Or maybe I'm having a terrible day and if I open my mouth or look at you I'm going to start crying, so I avoid that. Or maybe I'm really engrossed in something that I'm thinking about and it doesn't occur to me at that moment. Or maybe I have laryngitis or I'm a deaf person who signed thank you to you and you missed it. Or maybe I don't speak English and I'm trying to hide that. Or maybe I think you're totally hot and I am socially anxious and I don't know what to do so I freeze. Or maybe I actually was raised in a barn. Or perhaps I am Tarzan, just back from being raised in the jungle by an assortment of otherwise deadly animals.
The point is, you don't know why the person didn't say thank you and you clearly deserve thanks, so what gives, asshat?
But let's think about that for a minute: you deserve thanks. You earned it and you didn't receive it. If this is how you feel, you didn't open the door to be nice or to be helpful or because it's the polite thing to do; you did it for validation. If you are being "polite" so that people will verbally express that you are polite, you're not actually being polite.
I deliberately left this out of the original article because it was covered under "keep your assumptions and your insults to yourself." By behaving like this, you are assuming that the person didn't thank you with body language that you missed, that the person was capable of physically and emotionally expressing thanks at that moment, that the person actually does know better, and that as such, the withheld the thanks that you earned because they're assholes. So to correct this bad behavior, you insult them very loudly, correcting them to imply that they're rude and putting them in a position where they have to choose to defend themselves or encourage your behavior.
The Modern Manners Guy on Quick and Dirty Tips provides this rule for people who aren't correcting children or their employees: are there actual bad consequences for the person if they aren't corrected? In the case of not saying thanks for holding a door open, nope.
Etiquette author Lisa Mirza Grotts says in HuffPo:
Manners aren't what they used to be, but pointing out someone's social errors is bad manners. Further, commenting on a person's minor gaffes, such as imperfect grammar, wrong word choices, or poor table manners crosses the politeness line and, frankly, shows a lack of social skills. When our mothers told us to mind our manners, I don't think they meant "and everyone else's manners as well!"
Miss Manners herself says (in quite hilarious terms):
She knows, because her mailbox is overflowing with questions about the polite way to tell others what (according to the writer) is wrong with their behavior, looks and speech. It does not seem to occur to these people that there is no polite way, because it is rude to inform others that they do not measure up to your standard.
It amazes Miss Manners that people often assume that etiquette advisors run about the society giving unsolicited instructions and perhaps issuing tickets to violators. Being themselves perfect, etiquette advisers would be the last to do any such dreadful thing.
In the grand scheme of things, while it is nice to receive a polite thanks from someone that you do a favor for, if you demand thanks in return, it's no longer gracious. It's not a big deal. It's a bigger deal to correct someone on their manners in public. So zip it.