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Saturday, April 03, 2010

Shh. No talking on these trips.

By Dick Hirsch

No one ever taught me the proper way to ride in an elevator. There is no instruction manual for passengers available and that is part of the problem. Elevator riding is just one of those procedures that is repeated until learned, but there are some riders who just never learn.

Elevators are basically the same as they have always been, but in the newer buildings the interior decor has been enhanced substantially. The old elevators had a certain closet-like atmosphere, but landlords must have decided they needed the elevators to reflect the quality and character of the building, since, aside from the lobby, that is the first space the visitor sees. The result has been more emphasis on ambiance, with decorative panels on the walls and enhanced lighting.

How do I know this?

Because when I ride an elevator I have nothing else to do but surreptitiously look around at the setting. I realize that one of the basic rules of elevator behavior is this: never look directly at any of the other passengers. That being the rule, I concentrate first on the floor, then on the ceiling and then, finally, in the most unobtrusive manner I can muster, on the door and side walls. If I am traveling to one of the upper floors in a high rise office building such as the HSBC Center, I usually have made a complete examination of the space and am very familiar with my surroundings by the time I reach my destination.

Of course what I study most intently are the changing numbers as we travel from floor to floor. Those numbers have always been the focus of attention for riders who are familiar with universally accepted elevator protocol.

The essentials of proper elevator behavior can be explained this way:

Avoid eye contact with other riders. I’ve already covered that aspect of riding, but it bears repeating since there are many passengers who either don’t understand the importance of that rule or else cannot refrain from allowing their eyes to wander. My own practice, standard procedure for most persons with whom I have discussed this topic, is to focus directly on the floor indicator. Since that is usually in an elevated position over or near the door, concentrating on the changing numbers not only enables you to know your precise location, it also facilitates the avoidance of eye contact. Many riders claim they derive satisfaction from watching the changing numbers.

Next, make yourself as small as possible. This is a confined space, so it is vital to stand still and erect, arms at sides, palms turned inward. No gesturing of any kind or foot shuffling.

Upon entry, turn either left or right, locate the control panel and push the desired button, then find a vacant area of the floor, pivot, turn toward the door and establish your claim to that space. That is a maneuver which should be accomplished with a smooth but emphatic motion. Even in an overcrowded elevator, facing the rear is considered completely inappropriate. Under those conditions, wait for the next car.

Proper button pushing is important, whether in the corridor awaiting the elevator or actually inside, push the desired button firmly but only once. There are many, many riders who push the button repeatedly, as if that will hasten the arrival or departure. These are impatient people who are under the mistaken impression that repeated pushing has benefits. They are wrong, but there is no convincing them.

Whether it is in motion or at a standstill while loading or unloading, talking while aboard an elevator is ill-advised and considered bad form. If you are riding with a companion, isn’t it better to to wait 10 or 15 seconds and finish your sentence after leaving the car? In cases where riders insist on conducting a conversation it is perfectly permissible to listen. It cannot be classified as eavesdropping since the speakers know they are in a public area and they are making no effort to whisper.

But what if someone speaks to you, attempting to start an unwanted conversation? What is the best response? I was confronted with such a situation years go, in the early ‘80s, when I boarded as crowded elevator and was promptly spotted by a passenger in the rear who immediately started a conversation, introduced me to his new wife and started asking me questions, all of which I ignored. But he persisted.

Then the elevator stopped and I got off. He probably still thinks that was my floor.


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