The Sweeping Gesture

Because I am a woman of a certain age, I am having fun startling people. Frankly, I am currently invisible. Neither fat nor thin, long past attractive, I have decided to draw attention to the fast-fading art of being polite.

A doorway at Tohono Chul--"a corner of the desert" in Tucson.

A doorway at Tohono Chul–“a corner of the desert” in Tucson.

My favorite trick is to open a door then step to the side and with one arm, sweep my hand toward the inside of the building and say, in a voice with a smile, “After you!” I’ve brought people to a dead stop in front of me. They think it’s a trick. I’ll add, “Please,” while I incline my head toward the inside of the building.

It works well with automatic sliding doors, because I step aside and let the people who are inside step out. It makes sense to do this anyway, but when done with the arm sweep and a smile, it freezes people in their tracks.

On the other hand, if a man gestures that I should step out of the elevator first, I’ll reward him with a smile and a “You just made my day. Thank you.” I’ve seen men grow several inches, just from that small kindness.

Occasionally a woman will say, “Letting me out the door first doesn’t make up for being treated like a second-class citizen.” Well, no, of course not. But at that moment, no one is treating me like anything except a dignified woman who is being let through the door first. I don’t think it means any more than that. And I am enjoying it tremendously.

The busier the escalator, the TSA line, the bank, the more a slight sign of politeness brings on a smile. And secretly, it makes me feel generous, too. It’s a small shift in the fragile fabric of our culture, and I’m secretly happy to have the power to make something gentle happen.

–Quinn McDonald loves surprising people who do not expect or remember the art of being polite.



20 thoughts on “The Sweeping Gesture

  1. Be kind… even to those you do not particularly like.. it feeds your soul 🙂
    politeness seems to have vanished from our society… a real pity, as it costs nothing

  2. I love being polite. it never fails to make me feel good. I often do the same gesture at elevators, adding the comment, “I always allow others on first, in case there are tigers.” I think I say that to disarm the perceived non-PC politeness. Sad that I think that necessary.

  3. Quinn, we should have a day where we do nothing but run around making polite gestures! Oh, that and lunch.

    Thanks for the smile this morning.

    • OMG, I can see the two of us. People would NOT believe what is happening! That would be SO life-changing for the cranky people we meet! As soon as I get over this advanced crud, we need to have lunch. I know your schedule is different now with your mom, but we can make it work. But first, I don’t want to be Typhoid Mary.

  4. So it’s a two woman mission! A comment was made to me and I responded that it spreads, like a smile. I don’t go round with a fixed smile on my face but there is always a genuine one just under the surface. It’s wonderful how a smile returns and from whom . . . young and old, tough and genteel . . . it’s the ones inbetween who are the hardest to crack!

  5. Although my Granny died when I was eight, she was fiercely determined that I become “proper lady.” Consequently, the small gestures became habits. Only now at that certain age, do I see the astonishment on the recipients of common courtesy. I even must explain to some that I have also worked behind a counter, had cranky kids, juggled arm loads of packages, needed a kind word or smile to lift my sagging spirit and that is why I extend my Granny’s legacy. Of course, I haven’t your panache and I never reveal the pleasure that bounces right back to me. Thanks, Quinn.

  6. Here outside of Boston with towering snow piles one can’t see over or around, some but not enough of this polite kindness is being practiced. Driving it’s a necessity I wish more people observed as the mounds aren’t going anywhere soon. Thanks for making me smile. Namaste

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