Stupid Tuesday questions, Fiat edition

A few weeks ago, I went to pick up The Critter at preschool.  Since all the parents descend on the school at the same time to pick up their kids, parking spaces are at a premium.  I was delighted to find an available, if tight, space to stow the family vehicle.

Following extraction from the playground (often a task of some difficulty), The Critter and I made our way back to the car, at which point I opened the rear door to put him in his car seat for the drive home.  As I mentioned, the space was tight, and when I opened the door and navigated my son into his seat it gently bumped the car next to me, which was occupied by another father putting his own kids in.  I hope you will take my word when I promise that I am not editing my memory in a self-serving way.  It did not bang, slam, dent, ram or otherwise traumatize the other car’s door, and my door’s speed and force were so low that nobody could possibly worry that it could have caused any damage unless the automobile in question had side panels made of balsa wood.  Really, I promise.

“Oops” I thought to myself, with roughly the same degree of concern as when a little bit of jelly escapes over the side when I make my kid a PB&J sandwich.  Had another car door bumped mine in a similar manner, I hasten to assure you that it wouldn’t have bothered me in the least, and it never occurred to me that anyone else would have a different reaction.

I proceeded to get into the driver’s seat, only to glance over and see the other father giving me a Look.  Now, as I’ve said, it never in a million years would have occurred to me that anyone would be bothered by a low-velocity door-to-door bump, so my assumption was that my getting my kid and myself into the car had somehow impeded his egress.  Thus, I motioned that he could back out first.  With an irritated wave, he directed me to pull out myself, which I did after giving one of those perfunctory “thanks” waves in return.

I looked over my shoulder to reverse out of my spot, and when I turned my head back around was treated to the sight of him getting out of his car and making a big show of checking the area where my door had touched, accompanied by an ostentatiously disgusted shake of the head.  The scene was obviously intended for my viewing, as a wait of twenty seconds would have allowed him to do so without my knowing.  But no, I was meant to see.

I rolled down the window and asked, with a mix of concern and confusion, if there was any mark on the door.  He replied with annoyed terseness “no.”  At which time he got in his car and I drove away.

So… is this a big thing?  Am I meant to go through an elaborate ritual of penance if my door comes into contact with another car’s?  Did I transgress some social norm that everyone else knows?  I swear I would have done the appropriate “soooooooooooo sorry!” pantomime if I had had even the slightest inkling of concern that I’d actually damaged the car.  Is said pantomime necessary regardless?

And have any of you ever committed some faux pas you didn’t know existed until after you’d done it?  (The other time I did that was when I tried to tip a bartender in England.  You’d think I’d relieved myself on the bar.  Embarrassing.)

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. I would probably have said something like “Everything OK there?” at the time of the bump. I’ll bet you this would have been greeted with a nonchalant “Sure.” And I think the pantomime was simply a gripe about the lack of this minor courtesy.

    • Yeah, this. A quick audible “oops, sorry” and very brief inspection to confirm no damage would probably have been enough. After all, when we lightly bump into each other on the sidewalk, there’s never any real risk of paint scratches or damage at all, yet we say “excuse me”, just as courtesy.

      Also, it is possible that for whatever reason, the contact sounded louder to him (resonance within the enclosed car or door itself) than it did to you, causing him more concern than was ultimately warranted.

      Of course, he could also be really anal or angry. But speaking for myself, I’d want to know the person at least noticed what had happened and cared enough to validate that it was no big deal.

  2. Since you seem to be asking seriously, yes: an elaborate show of concern, and a ostentatious inspection of the “boo boo” area would probably have been in order. There are enough people in this world who would dent someone’s care and not give a shit (I drive around proof of this), that even a “balsa wood” contact with another car requires a little bit of dramaturgy to demonstrate that you are not one of “those.”

    We know you’re not, Russell. But the whole of Maine probably does not.

  3. I had the opposite problem in England: not tipping the Yeoman Guards at the Tower, when they expected me to do so. Didn’t realize the guy had stuck his hand out for anything other than a friendly handshake until I felt his finger clasp down on what he thought was going to be a pound and was, in fact, a heartfelt expression of salutation from his new, very cheap, friend from across the pond. I was far to embarrassed to fish out a banknote afterwards and slunk away, no doubt earning a muttered insult behind my back.

  4. In addition to what Snarky said, different people have different levels of “scratch tolerances” Some people have a finer eye for detail when it concerns the paint condition of their car (though this fine eye for detail does not extent to he cleanliness of the house or their room*)an they will carefully inspect the car the same way scientists at the forensic lab examine evidence for genetic material. That the light touch of your door against his did not scratch it in your eyes does not mean that it did not get scratched in his. It is therefore a good idea to always go through the whole thing just to be sure that it did not get scratched in his eyes.

    *Dear God, I’m beginning to sound like my mother

    • Perhaps this is because in Singapore, according to you, it costs an arm and a leg to have a car!

      • It costs the better part of a king’s ransom to buy a house, but you don’t get people being worked up about the paint job on their houses. People still paint their houses in some execrable colours.

  5. Happened to me — my car was the car banged by the door — last week in the grocery store parking lot. Little girl in the back seat opened her door, tapping it into my car.

    What broke my heart was the driver, her older sister, and Dad, both turned and started screaming at her, and she broke into tears. I had not done anything, other then hold on pulling out when I felt the tap. I stopped, when I say her in tears, got out, looked, and pointed to the car, “See, there’s nothing wrong, it’s really okay,” I said. The older sister and father in the front, in the meantime, were gritting their teeth and looking at me like I was a monster. So I turned to the little girl, and said, “It’s really okay, neither car’s hurt, and you’ll always remember to open doors with care now. That’s an important lesson, isn’t it?”

    She sobbed once more, and half smiled, and said, “Yes. I’ll always remember, now.”

    I wanted to yell at the father, the older sister, who were taking their stress on a new driver learning to drive out on a nine year old back-seat passenger. I doubt they’ll learn the important lesson here — you learn how to appropriately funnel the stress of driving, you don’t spew it out on everyone around you.

    • You’re an amazingly good person. I admire your response to the situation.

  6. Well, I am adding “make obvious show of concern after any and all car door-to-car door contacts” to my list of “social musts/must nots,” right next to “never, ever leave a tip on the bar of an English pub.”

  7. My hunch is that he presumed a presumptuousness on your part. It was his car that was hit. Therefore, your sense that the hit was minor didn’t matter; it was his right to determine if there was indeed an issue or not. By not saying anything or checking in with him, you might have communicated to him, “Well, I don’t see a problem so there is no problem here.” He had yet to see the spot where you hit, so as far as he knew, there was damage that you were either ignoring or were going to insist was, “No big deal.” And there are few things more infuriating than being told something you think is a big deal ought not to be.

    Mind you, knowing what I know about you, I don’t think you were ever actually doing any of this. But I don’t know if this fellow knew you (sounds like he didn’t). But it does seem somewhat perfunctory to acknowledged when one has transgressed another, even if the transgression seems minor, because there is always the possibility that it is not minor to the other person, and the ball is in their court so to speak.

  8. Waitrons in the U.S. wear nametags, mostly so they can be called by name for service. I have always only used that prerogative when I feel a waitron is doing an excellent job; it’s a tiny way of saying “I have noticed you are a real person doing an excellent job, and I look forward to your helping me more.” It’s also a hint that they can expect a better than usual tip.

    Dining in an excellent restaurant in Slovenia, I called out to our fantastic waiter with this in mind. He snapped around and looked terrfied for an instant, then deeply offended when he saw it was the American. I asked our Slovenian friend, Mat, and, yes, what I had done was the equivalent of shouting “Garcon” in a French cafe. I begged Mat to explain to Tomas that I’d meant no insult, and everything was patched up with a highly accented “Think nothing of it.” Still, I was mortified, and I don’t mortify easily, being of hillbilly stock.

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