Is there such a thing as 'elevator etiquette'?


Sushmita Bose

Published: Thu 3 Jun 2021, 7:13 PM

Last updated: Thu 3 Jun 2021, 7:16 PM

Everything in life, including life itself, is a journey if it involves moving from point A to point B (at times, in your head). Meh. It’s a cliché, I know, but one that’s bandied around all the time. An airline expedition is a metaphorical journey, other than being a real one. So is a bus ride. A taxi ride. Your college years. School ones. And so on and so forth.

I’m guessing a lift — or an elevator, depending on one’s semantic preferences — journey is also an “experience”, so what if it may be a minute long? But it’s one I’ve always tried to avoid whenever/wherever possible, and taken the stairs instead. In Dubai, however, it’s tough to bypass getting into one of the cages and get shafted (up or down) because of the heights we occupy. Even in low-rises, the stairwell is a pain to discover so we have to enter a lift to reach not-too-elevated first or second floors… or climb down from them.

I’ve often wondered if there’s a ‘lift etiquette’. The other day, I was waiting at a lift lobby; I needed to be transported to the 19th floor. There were three lifts, going up and down, and it was like Murphy’s Law: just as I was about to press the button on a grounded one, it started heaving up because someone must have summoned it from a floor above. I missed it by a whisker. Almost magically, a couple swanned in from nowhere and occupied the place in front of the one that was on its way down (the third lift was ensconced somewhere in high heavens). Only two people per lift, the notice clearly said, social distancing norms.

Now, I was there before them, so would they offer me first strike or right of way?

I waited. They didn’t, and happily got in without even casting a glance in my direction. “I would have asked you to go ahead and waited for the next one in any case, but you could have at least been more courteous,” I fumed to myself.

Also, if you are inside a lift and the doors have started to close in, and you suddenly spot someone else trying to scramble towards the shutting doors in an effort to catch it, should you be gracious enough to press the ‘open’ button so that the other person can get it? If so, why is it that no one does it for me?

Being inside the confines is taxing because I don’t know if I should smile at someone who’s caught my eye. What if they don’t smile back and look through me? I hate it when exuberant children enter a lift because I know they will start pressing buttons and the lift will stop on all floors, rendering the journey more excruciating. And yet, I see women checking themselves out in the mirror (in case the lifts are fitted with a looking glass wall — apparently that gives a sense of space), totally at ease, like the space is a powder room. Once in a while, I’ve been privy to conversations that I’d rather have not been forced to eavesdrop on: “How many times do I need to tell you I don’t like it when your mother visits?” was one snatch overheard, angry-looking woman telling glum-looking man.

A lot of scary movies have lift moments. The serial killer gets inside with a potential victim. Or there’s a blackout, the lift gets stuck, there’s no help at hand, and there’s a suspicious-looking character trying to give a woman’s the twiceover in the light of her glowing smartphone. But there have been small mercies. Once, a neighbour, who I didn’t know existed till I had the chance to ‘meet’ her in the lift’, turned to me and excitedly informed that “It’s my birthday today”. I had to wish her, and she said, “I know you live in the apartment next to ours, why don’t you come over in the evening and have some cake?”

“I’m working late, I may be in office till midnight, it’s a big news day,” I tried to wave away the offer desperately.

“It’s alright, we’re up till very late,” she beamed, the door opened in time lapse-style, she let herself out with a cheery “See you then!”

All this happened over the course of a very slow down journey from the first floor to the ground floor lobby.

At the end of the brief encounter, I was so touched (guilt was the catalyst that transformed exasperation to gratitude) that I actually went over to her place in the evening (turned out, I wasn’t working late, after all), and had a slice and some savouries, we exchanged phone numbers and even WhatsApped each other a few times.

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