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Door Dumb

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Now who's the blockhead?

>open door
"You try PUSHING the door but it won't budge."
>pull door
"Oh, right..."
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Simply put, this trope is when a character is unable to open a door because they're pushing when they're supposed to pull (or vice-versa, or some other variant altogether). Sometimes the door is clearly marked "PULL", although sometimes it's not. Practically always Played for Laughs.

Many notable people Real Life have made this error in Real Life, including George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The problem is so widespread that Donald Norman's seminal book, The Design of Everyday Things, devotes nearly an entire chapter to describing how this mistake is a result of deficient design. Ideally, a door should give a hint (called affordance) as to whether it is PUSH or PULL. In other words, a door should not have a handle on the PUSH side, so it can't physically be pulled from that side. Placing a "pull" handle on both sides of a door invites the user to make this common mistake.

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Most of the time a person who tries to open a door the wrong way will reverse course when it refuses to budge. If the door still doesn't open, that's when people get confused. Many places with double doors like to keep one of them locked, so visitors might mistakenly attempt to pass through the wrong side.

Compare We Have the Keys, which is another situation where opening a door is far more difficult that it should be.


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Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • GEICO"s "Push It" ("It's What You Do") commercial opens with a guy pulling on a push door, then Salt-N-Pepa show up and sing "Push It."
  • From this Magic of Macy's ad:
    Jessica Simpson: Kenneth, I can't get in the building again.
    Kenneth Cole: You have to pull it, Jess.
  • A commercial for the upcoming-at-the-time Pokémon Crystal has a team of explorers encountering a huge door with some writings on it, and try to push it open. Near the end, the camera cuts to a wide shot of the door, which clearly says "PULL" in Unown letters. We also see two natives discussing it:
    Native 1: [in foreign language] Should we tell them it says "PULL"?
    Native 2: No way, bro!
    [they high-five each other]

    Anime & Manga 
  • Played with in Pucca. Abyo was trying to enter the restaurant by pushing the door, then another client exit, and Abyo discovers he has to pull. He then entered the building... and the door hit him like it was a double door.
  • Soul Eater:
    • Played for Drama when Maka and Soul first fought Crona in a church. Maka tries to retreat but was in too much of a panic to notice the doors open inward — something Crona had just said, among many other things ("Hey, everyone! These doors open inward! THEY ONLY OPEN ONE WAY!")
    • Much later in the manga when the two are in the same church, Crona gives a rant about not being able to live by this worlds' rules, which is highlighted by seeing the same doors and "opening" it outward by knocking it off its hinges and breaking it in half.

    Comic Books 
  • In a volume of Amelia Rules!, one character spends the entire story pushing the "pull" door; Amelia finally breaks down and points this out only to discover he's doing it deliberately as a science fair project.
  • Brought Up to Eleven in one story of the Italian comic Cattivik. The only obstacle between the protagonist and the apartment he intends to rob is a door that he fails to open, in spite of first pulling, then pushing, then trying to break it open, then begging and threatening it, then trying to destroy it with napalm, the bombs of a B-52, an alien spaceship (in a Shout-Out to Independence Day) and even a nuke. As Cattivik surrenders in desperation, one of the people from the apartment exits and calmly opens the sliding door. Cattivik takes it about as well as you'd expect.

    Comic Strips 
  • The "Midvale School for the Gifted" strip of The Far Side has a student stuck at a door like this (Pull, don't Push!) This is arguably the trope's most famous example, and would be the page image if not for copyright issues.
  • In a Hägar the Horrible strip, Hagar's army is about to push a battering ram into a castle door, when Hagar shouts, "Hold it! Can't you guys read?" The door is revealed to have "Pull" signs on it.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Combined with Absurdly Ineffective Barricade in The Big Lebowski, when The Dude tries to prop his door shut with a chair, but then the door opens outward.
  • In the classic Soviet comedy Kidnapping, Caucasian Style, Shurik is tricked by the Big Bad into being placed in a mental institution. Shurik convinces a nurse to let him speak with the head doctor. He walks to the doctor's office and tries several times to pull open the door before giving up in frustration. The nurse simply pushes open the door.
  • In the German film Münchhausen (sorry, don't ask which one) the selfsame Baron of Lies and the Young Hero compete for the love of the heroine. Their game of one-upmanship epically fails at the next door. One pushes, the other pulls, until the heroine shows them that it's a slide door.
  • A variation in The Parent Trap: Annie, in Hallie's house, has trouble opening the back door, because she is trying to turn the knob instead of pushing it.
  • In Guy Ritchie's Snatch., Sol and Vinnie make an unsuccessful attempt to rob a bookie. In retreat after the bullet-proof shutters have fallen over the counter, they are stymied by the shop's door. Needless to say, after they have given up hope of getting out and collapsed to the floor (revealing their unmasked faces to the CCTV), their getaway driver, Tyrone, opens the door the other way to see what's taking them so long. In a Brick Joke, you actually see them push the door to get in.
  • An early gag in Tommy Boy has Tommy frantically race to his college for his final exam, until he reaches the door at the entrance which appears to be locked. After frantically pulling on the knob and shouting desperately, he slumps down on the steps dejected, then watches another student calmly walk up and open the adjacent, unlocked door.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: While going to save Eddie and Jessica at the Acme warehouse, Roger tries to pull open a rotating window, muttering "Wouldn't you know? Locked!". He then leans against the window, causing it to rotate inward and make him fall inside.

    Jokes 
  • There's a joke in which a guy tells his therapist/psychologist of a recurring dream in which he's in front of a massive door with a sign on it, which he pushes with all his might, but it won't budge. When he wakes, he's drenched in sweat and bone-tired. When asked what the sign says, he replies "pull".
  • Another joke, about an American tourist in the UK (obviously unfamiliar with British-English) found trying to squeeze his fingers under a door marked LIFT...
  • "Doctor, Doctor! I think I may be going blind!" "Yes, I noticed that when you walked through the door."

    Literature 
  • In Ptolemy's Gate from The Bartimaeus Trilogy, when Nathaniel is trying to get into a room full of the government's most precious magical treasures, he turns a door handle and pulls, only to find it apparently locked. He immediately starts panicking about various magical safeguards he might have to overcome, only to then have a thought. He pushes on the door handle and this time it opens.
  • Mentioned in Johnny and the Dead by Terry Pratchett, where Johnny speculates that even on alien planets where everyone breathes ammonia and has tentacles, there are still people who ZXCV the MVBN door. At a dramatically-appropriate moment somebody is slowed down just long enough because of trying to push the pull door.
  • The translated lyrics of one of the opera songs in the Discworld novel Maskerade may relate to this, though it's unclear whether the person singing the aria is pulling against a door that opens outwards (thanks to a mislabeled sign), or if the door is just stuck. Probably the latter as one of the lyrics specifies that the damn door "sticks no matter what the hell I do."
  • Happens twice with Septimus Heap:
    • In Queste, Septimus and Beetle are trying to push a snow-blocked door open. Jenna proposes to open it on her own, and she does it simply by pulling the doorhandle, opening the door.
    • Also happens in Syren, but with a bulkhead hatch and in far more urgency.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In 30 Rock, when Jack Donaghy is replaced by Don Geiss' Too Dumb to Live, Cloudcuckoolander daughter, the scene that sets up her character shows her pulling in desperation at a bathroom door with the words "push" printed on it very clearly.
  • The subject of a montage in the sixth season of American Idol. It's worth noting that ALL those doors are double doors both of which are "push" doors but one of them is locked closed. That's illegal. People do it all the time but it's still illegal. If there's a fire people won't be able to/have time to/be allowed by the rest of the crowd to go to the other door; they'll get crushed up against that door by the fleeing mob and die. Notably, some of the doors in the clip had handles which the auditionees had tried to pull, others were purely push doors. Another note is that the final clip shows that the lock broke inbetween her adrenaline-fueled push and the consistent abuse it had taken. Simon even says "other door" as she's bursting out of it, the reflex apparently having become ingrained from so many that had tried to go through the locked door.
  • The TARDIS herself gives the Doctor a dressing down in the Doctor Who episode "The Doctor's Wife" for consistently opening the TARDIS doors the wrong way — the sign on the door reads "Pull to open", which apart from a brief repair of the chameleon circuit in "Attack of the Cybermen", have consistently done so since the very first episode. The doors open freely either way, but after about 700 years of walking past the sign and still making that mistake, the Doctor can well be described as door dumb.
    • Although on a real police box, the 'PULL TO OPEN' refers only to the hatch on which it is printed. Pulling the small handle on the panel opens a compartment containing a telephone that can be used to call the police.
  • The Haven episode "Thanks For The Memories" has a sad example. Audrey Parker enters a magical barn that is about to disappear for 27 years. Her boyfriend Nathan Wuornos, in a blind panic and desperate not to lose her, ineffectually tackles and pounds on the door that opens outwards. However, it was magically sealed shut, so it wouldn't have mattered if he pulled it anyway.
  • One episode of The John Larroquette Show has Bobcat Golthwait as a neurotic safety inspector that always tried to open the door wrong, whether it was push or pull.
  • In an episode of Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon once walked to a door... and bumped into it, not realizing that it was a pull door.
    Gordon: (bleep) Door!
  • There is an episode of Married... with Children in which this is a running gag. Kelly was trying to open the door in the wrong direction, and in order for her to succeed she is told to do it otherwise. And then she explains it to an FBI agent who is just as stupid.
  • On New Girl, the guys point out that Nick is angry all the time, and a flashback shows him struggling to push on a pull door because "I push when I want to!"
  • Played with a sliding door in That '70s Show. Kelso see's Hyde and Jackie making out from the Forman kitchen. Enraged he goes to open the sliding door with little success. Eric unlocks the door for Kelso only to run through the screen door immediately after. By this point, Hyde and Jackie are gone.
    Donna And when Kelso saw you guys kissing, he just fell apart. I mean, it was awful. And then he ran into the screen door.
    Jackie: Ohh. He's just so bad at doors.
  • Warehouse 13 gives us this funny exchange...
    *Boom* "Pete." *boom* "Pete." *boom* "PETE!"
    "Yeah?"
    "Pull!"
  • Happens a few times on World's Dumbest..., usually involving a burglar trying to escape the scene of the crime.
  • In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, on a bonding outing, just as Gina tells Holt she invited the best and brightest (of those available), Hitchcock and Scully enter the room and tell them, "Sorry for being late. Turns out the front door was a push, not a pull".

    Video Games 
  • Don't Wet Your Pants: Like in Don't Shit Your Pants, if you tell your character to "open door", he will try to push the door open but it won't budge so you have to tell him specifically to 'pull' the door open.
  • A variation in Leisure Suit Larry 7: Love for Sail!. The door to the break room is heavily secured with all kinds of biometric sensors and dozens of weapons tracking your every movement. How do you open? Push. It's not locked. However, the "push" command is not on the list of options and has to be typed in.
  • Samurai Warriors: During Goemon Ishikawa's final mission, he needs to break into the enemy fortress but can't get through the gate. He must ask either Keiji Maeda (whom he considers a rival) or Okuni (the romantic interest who's the primary source of his rivalry) for help. Asking Keiji results in the two of them struggling intensely and finally succeeding in pushing the gate in. Asking Okuni results in her easily pulling the gate out.
  • Spongebob Squarepants Employee Of The Month: Patrick runs into trouble with a set of double doors in the cutscene before Chapter 3. First, he attempts to pull open the right door and gives up when it doesn't work. Then a small child exits through the door on the left, which swings inward. Patrick then pushes open the left door to enter. note 

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • In an animated GIF, a little stickman unleashes a variety of anime, manga and video game shout-outs to try and open a stubborn door. When all this fails to work and he finally collapses in exhaustion, the door finally falls...outward.
    "If pushing doesn't work, try pulling."
  • Acts of Gord gives us this narration:
    "Remember The Far Side where the kid is at the school for the gifted and he's trying to push on the door when it's labeled pull? Well, this one kid was trying for two minutes to do the same thing at Gord's door. Oh this was going to hurt when the rest of the family showed up."
  • NFL humor blog Kissing Suzy Kolber depicts Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as particularly stupid, with his difficulty in opening a door as one extreme example.
    [Door marked "Push" is pulled for two minutes, then flies open]
  • Not Always Right gives us this story.
  • Discussed by Doug Walker in his review of the Avatar: The Last Airbender first season episode "Avatar Roku," where the heroes try and fail to open a door just before a commercial break. Doug was sure that it would turn out they just had to push the doors to get inside instead of pulling, like they were doing, and was pleased when the writers did something much more clever.
  • A story featured on the live version of What the Fuck Is Wrong with You? was about a thief who got stuck inside the store he had just robbed because of this, before another customer entered and showed him which way the door swung. The kicker: The thief was a regular customer at said store. Nash couldn't help but bring up The Far Side strip mentioned above.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Backyardigans episode "Knights Are Brave and Strong", Uniqua has to get through the gate the Guardian of the Gate guards. Even the Guardian himself can't open it — because the whole time he never thought of pulling on the handle instead of pushing. It says something when apparently an entire kingdom has never been able to open a door because nobody thought of opening it the other way.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door: In Operation F.A.S.T.-F.O.O.D. Numbuh Three goes to open the double sided door to the fast food restaurant, after trying to open from the left side and failing Numbuh One opens it from the right without any trouble.
  • Happens twice in Ed, Edd n Eddy. The first case is in "Read All About Ed", when Ed tries to deliver a paper to a fenced-in house, but can't pull the tall fence door open. He then tries to leap clean over the door, only to get his pants snagged on the top of the frame. When he calls Edd for help, Edd pushes the door open, smacking Ed into the fence in the process. The second case is in "Too Smart for His Own Ed", and this time it's Edd that falls victim to this. After Ed wins the spelling bee, Edd is left flustered and unable to think clearly, so when he tries to enter the cafeteria and can't push the door open, he thinks it's locked at first, until Ed of all people points out he was supposed to pull it. (Spelling pull right, but reading it backwards.)
  • In one episode of Hey Arnold!, Harold tries to push a door open, and Helga has to point out to him the "Pull" sign. But when he finally figures it out, he pulls the door too hard and hits himself in the face with it.
  • Kaeloo: The characters on this show are so stupid that on separate occasions, three different people have managed to get themselves stuck inside a car because they tried to pull the door inwardly instead of opening it outward.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "A Health of Information", a sleep-deprived Fluttershy arrives at Meadowbrook's house and tries to push open the door — to no avail. She declares their only option is to dig their way in! Twilight turns the doorknob.
  • In Prep and Landing, Lanny is introduced trying to pull open a push door, right after he's described as graduating at the top of his class. ("It was a small class.")


 
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