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cultural difference 15: doors

April 28, 2010

In Second Nature, I had a scene in which Griffin sneaks into a bedroom:

With the patience of a predator, Griffin inched closer to the bedroom door. Even through the thin fabric of her gloves, the knife felt cold and foreign in her hand. Her fingers trembled as she reached for the door handle.

Slowly, she moved the door handle down and pushed the door open inch by inch

It never occurred to me to have Griffin turn the door knob to open the door. Why?

Because door knobs are very rare in Germany. We have door handles instead – very practical: if you are carrying stuff, you can push down the handle with your elbow. I hear they are becoming more common in the US too.

Some front doors have knobs, but they do nothing to open the door. The only thing that opens the door is the key.

I’ve heard some Americans who visited Germany say that we have a lot more doors in our houses and apartments. Except for very modern houses, each room is separate. When you enter an apartment or house, you have to open another door to get to the living room. Even the kitchen has its own door.

In German houses and offices, doors are usually kept closed. Children are taught to close doors behind them, and if they forget, they might be admonished by comments like “Do you live on a hill?” (I heard that one a lot growing up!) – implying that, supposedly, doors close on their own if the house stands on a slope.

Apparently, Germans value their privacy in their living and working environments.

So, what can you tell me about the doors in your house? Door knobs or handles?

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6 comments

  1. Door knobs in our house and on most of the doors at work. I prefer the handles for just the reason you stated, I can open them with my elbow if my hands are full – which is a regular occurance. If I’m ever blessed with the opportunity to design and build my own house, all the doors will have handles.

    In our house, most of our doors stay open. Reason? If they are closed I have a cat who worries himself sick about what is on the other side. The only closed doors are closet doors, but as long as the closet light is off, the cat doesn’t seem to mind. But close a bedroom or bathroom door and he is crying and pacing and trying to peek under and worrying it with his foot. He is old, so we accomodate him and keep the doors open.


    • I understand. My cat liked full access to the whole house too. And we all know: Dogs have owners. Cats have servants 🙂


  2. Never thought about the benefit of door handles vs. knobs – great point!

    My parents seem to have an issue with closed interior doors, but not the same issue as Glenda’s cat. Instead, they seem to need to open a closed door, without any thought of knocking. Perhaps I’ll send them on a trip to Germany to master door etiquette.


    • That’s not to say that German parents knock when they enter their offsprings’ rooms.

      Oh, and by the way: I know a few cats who learned to open doors by jumping on the door handle. I wouldn’t advise trying that with door knobs.


  3. In Ukraine, where I was born, we lived in a flat, where all the rooms had doors with knobs, so you just push them open or pull them closed. The entrance door had a handle. Don’t ask me why. Anyway, I found it more handy and practical. Now that I live in Cyprus, most of the houses have no separation between the rooms at all, except for the bedrooms. Negative side of it – no sound proof and lack of confidence (it’s a national trait by the way, to stick nose into everything that goes on not just around, but also in the neighbour house!). But positive moment – makes the whole house look bigger and more spacious.


    • Maybe that’s why German kids are taught to always close doors — it assures privacy. Plus it avoids air drafts. Apparently, we Germans are afraid of catching a cold at the slightest hint of a draft 🙂



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