Elevator Etiquette

Should there be an etiquette for travelling in lifts with other people? Wikipedia currently defines an elevator as “a transport device used to move goods or people vertically”. A transport device! So when sharing a lift with another person, you’re effectively going on a journey with them, albeit a short one. I’m always worried about what to say, if anything, to a person I’m sharing a lift with. I’d usually say ‘hey’ or at least smile when I or they board for the first time. It only seems polite to acknowledge their existence at the start of the journey. But when they or you leave the lift, it’s particularly difficult to know what to say. “Goodbye” seems a bit much but I feel obliged to say something in order to provide closure to our fleeting relationship initially instigated by a smile, nod or ‘hey’. When parting, smiles or nods do not usually suffice in that the other person is seldom looking at you but is rather studying the metal doors or digital number readout. So you have to say something. In the past, I have said “Cheers”. “Cheers” seems to be a common expression here in Scotland when parting company with someone but to me it means “Thank You”. What am I thanking this person for? S/he’s not a lift attendant driving the ‘vehicle’ on my behalf nor am I thanking them for their amazing good company on our emotionally-charged ascent up the building.

There are of course confounding variables. If a lift is very busy – filled with other vertical commuters – there is no obligation to say anything to anyone. Social situations usually become paradoxically less personal when there are a greater number of people involved. Conversely, if it’s an extra-long journey from basement to roof, there is a greater demand for smalltalk. In the event of you’re going to and/or from the same locations as your elevator chum, there is also extra demand for pleasantries: you have something in common – probably many things if you’re going to the same floor of, say, a library or a cinema.

I wish there was some sort of elevator etiquette known to all. Well, there sortof is: don’t say anything to anyone and keep eyes fixed on the inanimate metal wall and/or the progress of the numbers. But that’s horrible and disturbingly akin to gents’ urinal etiquette.

Maybe we should tell jokes to other updown passengers. Next time I board a lift with someone else already in it, I’m going to say “What did one snowman say to the other snowman”. And then when one of us alights, I’ll say “Can you smell carrots?”. It’s like a good version of Subway Stanzas. Since giving up my ‘career path’ in standup comedy due to disillusion with the permissible sandbox nature of comedy clubs, I’ve been looking for an escape valve for comedic energy. I think lifts are the ideal venue. I shall reinvent myself posthaste as the elevator jester.

I think you’ll find my idea quite uplifting. Haha. I don’t often make jokes. Except for when I’m in elevators. From now on.

Is it ever possible to action the perfect ‘good deed’. The idea of course is that no good deed goes unrewarded and so by accepting this notion, the deed becomes bilateral and not in essence a ‘good’ one.

Upon writing the above sentence, I realise that this paradox is the focus of an episode of Friends in which one of the characters becomes fixated upon actioning this perfect good deed. How trite of me to raise this point again. But never mind.

At work last night, a colleague and I were given a task to share between us. I’d go away and do half of it and then he would do his half upon my return. Not finding it too strenuous a task, I decided to do 3/4 of the work rather than half so that my chum wouldn’t have so much to do. What a good deed. But I found myself thinking that I shouldn’t draw attention to the extra work done lest the deed no longer qualify as ‘good’.

In truth, this was the reason I only did 3/4 of the job and not the whole lot. If I did all of the work, everyone would know and give me an embarrassing course of back-pattery.

Presumably, the ultimate good deed would be one committed in a vacuum – entirely in sworn secret with no one else ever knowing of it.

But left after this is a sense of self satisfaction at having completed a good deed. And so again the deed becomes bilateral again – the deeder has acquired something (self satisfaction) in exchange for the good action and the maxim of no good deed going unrewarded is proven true once again and so the paradox remains fulfilled.

With respect to other projects and in an attempt at warming myself up before writing other stuff, I’m going to make a more determined effort to write something in these pages as frequently as is comfortably possible from now on – perhaps even every day. When I first started blogging back in 2003, I wrote that I amazed myself by how little wordage I produced during daylight hours and that merely writing about annoying events from the previous day would be at least something. As Dickon Edwards once wrote, “Where to start? Where to stop? Just write it down, that’s all that matters.” So for a while at least, The Occasional Papers is going to take a more diary-like approach to blogging in which I will simply – as Roy Walker would approve of – say what I see. Or at least that’s the plan. Presumably this will result in some boring rubbish rather than the incredible ideas and insightful analyses you’re used to in these pages (ahem) but, as ever, you don’t have to read it.

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