Contrary to what you may feel after a ride on the Luxor’s famed inclinator, the Tower of Terror at California Adventure, or (I assume) Willy Wonka’s mystical glass masterpiece, elevator rides are pretty predictable. You step in, push a button, arrive on your selected floor, and then you presumably live happily ever after. Yet add another human into the equation and your outwardly uneventful ascension becomes a three minute social experiment in a four-walled Petri dish.
We’ve been riding elevators to our hotel rooms, apartments, office suites and third floor shoe departments all our lives, so why is it that the moment we leave the real world and join planet elevator we devolve into awkward, stoic versions of ourselves? Have you ever been charming, witty, or remotely hilarious in an elevator? I’m not sure I’m even pleasant in an elevator. While elevator companions all start with some common ground – whether it’s a shared apartment complex or an extreme aversion to stairs – it seems we ignore standard rules of human engagement and begin adhering to some sort of unspoken elevator protocol.
So after a lifetime of ups and downs with strangers, along with anecdotal evidence from fellow Petri subjects, I’ve ascertained that some form of the following must be part of the lost elevator code:
Article 1: Position
If you’re not the first person on the elevator you do not get to choose where you stand. Wait for the other parties to shift and open a space for you before entering. Once you have your place, immediately face forward. As additional parties enter the elevator it is your responsibility to adjust the leftover personal space accordingly by shuffling horizontally until all parties are equidistant. This is to be done via ESP and with no eye contact.
Article 2: Button Pushing
Save for the occasional bellhop, the person standing closest to the elevator door is the official button pusher. As you enter the elevator the button pusher will decide either to maintain position or to step back and relinquish his button pushing duties to you*. If you are the button pusher, it is imperative that you press the “Close Doors” button as often as possible. The doors will not close unless you do this.
*Exception: If a child is on the elevator he automatically becomes the button pusher. Deal with it.
Article 3: Conversation
Where possible, all communication should be done via awkward smile. If the ride will be long, or the button pusher has abused his power and pressed all the buttons, or you’re just one of those people (I am), there are only two acceptable topics of conversation:
A. Elevator music: If there is music, you may say, “is that ‘The Girl from Ipanema’?” If there is no music, you may say, “wish we had a little ‘Girl from Ipanema’ in here.” Expect no response in either scenario.
B. Unemotional weather predictions: “Looks like it’s gonna rain through the weekend” is appropriate for shorter rides. For longer rides, feel free to embellish, “Looks like it’s gonna rain through the weekend but it’s snowing in the mountains.” There should be no inflection in your voice in order to best convey your own disinterest in this conversation.
Article 4: Exit Strategy
Once the elevator arrives at your floor you may officially relax your stance and begin shifting your weight in order to alert your fellow passengers that this is, in fact, your floor. If you’ve been conversing about the weather, now is the time to politely nod in no particular direction. Once the doors open, walk straight ahead and exhale. Experiment over.
Through the years I’ve attempted to break protocol with a compliment on a dress or a “hey I’m on the fourth floor too!” (like I said, I’m never witty in an elevator), but my unnecessary enthusiasm is most often met with blank stares and awkward smiles. So I would post a copy of this in elevators across the world, but it seems like everybody has it down.