Elevator etiquette has its ups and downs

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“Had I been greeted in the hallway or the foyer of the very same hotel, by the same person, my response would have been an immediate and cheerful reply, but I was not expecting words to be uttered in a lift.” 

Conversing with a fellow traveller isn’t something that comes naturally for the bulk of the lift-riding population bemoans an equally mute MIKE WELSH.

A PERSON spoke to me in a lift once. And it shocked me. Not that it left me so traumatised I am unable to enter another lift; it was just a totally unexpected experience.

Mike Welsh.

It was more of a greeting than an attempt to engage me in conversation, but nonetheless, a person actually spoke to me in a lift. This had never happened before.

The lift was in a Sydney hotel. Granted it was a tourist, an American visitor to be precise who broke the silence, perhaps in the interests of global harmony I should refer to the lift as an elevator. 

I even tweeted the story and got several retweets, sharing my surprise at this happening. I can’t recall the exact words my friendly co-passenger used, possibly due to shock. 

I wanted to respond. I wanted to behave in the usual civilised manner expected of me. Had I been greeted in the hallway or the foyer of the very same hotel, by the same person, my response would have been an immediate and cheerful reply, but I was not expecting words to be uttered in a lift. 

Farting is much more common according to the list of “Ninety fun things to do in a lift”, which also includes the suggestion you draw a little square on the floor with chalk and announce to the other passengers this is your “personal space”.

I was, to my shame, left speechless. In mitigation for my crime against humanity, the shortness of the ride and the point at which my American lift co-rider uttered the friendly words left precious little time for me to compose myself and respond before that unmistakable ping sound, which always makes lift riders look up, signalled our plummeting, metal-lined conveyance had landed.

Apparently this awkward activity happens more often than you think. There are the motivated and opportunistic souls who use their time in lifts to hone or apply their sales-pitching skills, running the risk of annoying those who are suspicious of others wishing to engage them in social intercourse. But for most of us, we just get on and get it over with – the riding of the lift, not the intercourse, social or otherwise. Although one does hear stories.

Conversing with a fellow lift traveller isn’t something that comes naturally for the bulk of the lift-riding population. For that reason there was a movement floated several years ago to actively promote the practice. I had a spokesperson from the group on my radio program back in the day. 

He offered a special certificate to those who got involved in the push. There may have even been a special day gazetted to promote the activity. I have my very own certificate somewhere, which states soberly and in gothic font that I, Michael Francis Welsh, contributed to the “advancement of people speaking to one another while riding a lift”.

Apart from liveried lift attendants in the department stores of my childhood, who stylishly and helpfully navigated the journey for shoppers and the muzak-mix designed to make the journey more enjoyable that replaced them, not a lot has changed in lifts.

Why is it that people don’t freely speak to each other in lifts or greet one another or even vaguely acknowledge the presence of a fellow human traveller as they enter a lift?

It remains one of the mysteries of mankind.

New-Age guru Deepak Chopra suggests “talking to strangers fosters serendipity” and that we should “welcome the randomness of someone who joins us in an elevator”.

So the next time you use a lift, good luck. I’ve done my bit to educate society on this awkward social situation and I have the certificate to prove it.

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Mike Welsh
Mike Welsh is a serial blogger and former Canberra radio presenter.

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