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on lift etiquette

I wrote recently in my diary column about lift etiquette in other countries and one or two people have asked me what I meant.

In the UK and in pretty much every lift (elevator) that I have ridden in the US people may acknowledge another’s presence in the car, but words are rarely exchanged beyond an enquiry about which floor is required and even this can usually be managed by gestures or facial expression rather than actual speech. Otherwise there is a studious effort made to ignore anyone else occupying the small space as you move vertically to your respective destinations.

Further south of those two areas, in South America and North Africa respectively a courteous greeting is more common so whilst there may not be any real conversation, there is at least some communication and an acknowledgement of another human presence in the lift car. Disembarkation is also a matter of courtesy with an exchange of “After you” prior to one of you making a move.

On my first trip to the Orient I stayed in a couple of locations in Eastern China and although I did use the lifts at my hotel there were none at the office and I didn’t notice anything unusual in the former, but thinking back most of my fellow guests were Americans and so were probably behaving as though they were at home for it was an American owned hotel chain.

My recent trip east took me to a more central location in China and then on to Thailand and in the first stop I was on the 38th floor of my hotel. There two things struck me very quickly and these were the lift doors which closed on me much more quickly than I had expected. There was a brief struggle before the doors retracted for another assault and gave me chance to dive aboard.

Later that day two more things struck me, but these were mere observations on the behaviour of the people rather than mechanical actions. The first was observing hand movements at a speed worthy of a conjurer, as sort of flick of the fingers to present the room key to the sensor to allow use of the lift and then a two handed jab with a digit extended on each hand, the first the press the door close button and the second to select the floor required. This was done with such speed that it took me about three trips to fully catch the sequence and it became clear that the closing of the door was to prevent anyone else getting into the lift. It was a regular feature for the rest of my stay in that hotel and I also saw it used to good effect in the office.

The second behavioural trait was that whenever the lift stopped anyone wishing to enter would charge forwards as the doors opened regardless of whether anyone inside was trying to get out. Now picture a scene where you are in the lift and arriving at your floor: You feel the motion stop, the indicator shows that you have arrived and you go to move forwards as the doors open only to be faced with two or more other barging in. You quickly learn, bearing in mind the previous comments, that the first one into the lift will have executed the two finger jab within a nanosecond of getting into the lift and the doors will close at speed in response to this so you do not want to tarry in the aperture. 

As I said last week, when in Rome etc. and so I quickly adopted tactics that would get me out of the lift and clear of the doors using my height and bulk to best advantage: Get out fast and be prepared to use a shoulder; everyone else does. but whilst trying to avoid injurious damage to any of those seeking to enter the lift. The joys of travel are truly many and varied.


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