Friday, October 13, 2006

Elevators and Etiquette

Being from California, I have never lived in a place where elevators play such a prominent role. I did spend a year in Prague, living on the fourth floor of an aparment building there, but it was Prague so there were no elevators. In fact, thinking about it, elevators were very rare in our area of Prague, although the panelaks, which are Soviet era gerbil houses built around the edges of the city, all have one or two death traps they pass off as means of vertical conveyance.

So my experience with elevators is somewhat limited, and being so, when I began living here I took the stairs almost everytime up and down. Then I had to move big stuff, and I fell in love with the clunky old elevator in my building. You know those cartoons and comics and shows that always have some mechanical device that only works when you kick or hit it right, that is what my elevator is like. It is remarkably slow, so much so that you can actually climb the stairs much faster exerting the same amount of effort. And its operation requires a unique combination of key entries; if you hit the floor before the door close button (which you must hit or the door simply remains open until the entire building rambles in and overwieghs the thing), the door will not close (see I would expect hitting the floor button would let the elevator know that you wanted to move up or down but this is obivously a logical fallacy on my part).I began to enjoy the use of my elevator, an enjoyment that increased exponentially when I discovered the communal dolly in our building, allowing me to actually move furniture (not that I have much yet) and boxes upstairs without rupturing parts of my back.

So I began to use the elevators at work and around, the timing of which was ideal because my friend Aimee lives on the 27th floor of her building and climbing up there would have been brutal. As I used more elevators, I began to notice distinct differences in the quality of various elevators, quality differences that have litte to do with the types of buildings the elevators are in. Generally the quality I am talking about is speed, with size coming in a close second. Aimee introduced me to the maxim, which I have found to be generally correct, that elevator speed is directly proportional to the size of the building. I would add the corollary that elevator size is proportional to the wealth of the people who live there, as the student housing at Einstein has smallish elevators, but the buildings on fifth avenue have massive, sparkling, speedy elevators that glide up and down like they are moving through liquid (just another way that the ultra-rich live in an entirely different reality) ..

Then theres the etiquette of elevators. When do you talk and when do you keep silent? And what do you talk about? Generally, it seems fairly normal, but I am told that discussion of anything that involves money, fluids, or catastrophic accidents are considered very rude.

As to when to speak, this is a very difficult matter. I tried saying hello to people on the parking lot elevator at the grocery store and they must have thought I escaped from the mental ward at the hospital. One women actually physically moved away from me. In the elevators at work people talk, but only to people they are talking to when they get on, on only in low voices turned slightly away from the larger group. And the conversation generally does not happen when there are more than 6 people in the elevator.

In fact 6 seems to be the key to some unwritten rules, like the elevator gets uncomfortably hot and people do not speak or even nod to acknowledge you. Its like the opposite of a dance club, you know, when there are more people on the dance floor you are more comfortable and more dancing and interactions occur. In elevators, the amount of interaction decreases exponentially with each person above two, although I have not had much luck striking up conversations with just one person either, they generally get this distasteful look that could either be interpreted as their wanting to just get away from you or having imbibed slightly rancid cabbage juice. And what do you talk about. Generally, it seems fairly normal, but I am told that discussion of anything that involves money, fluids, or catastrophic accidents are considered very rude.

And a final point of etiquette is the short lifter. The short lifter is an annoying inidividual who slows down your necessary trek up 7 floors to take the elevator one floor up. One floor. It takes longer to wait for the elevator than to ride it up one floor. Its 18 steps. The steps let you off closer to the labs anyway. If you are the kind of person to ride an elevator up one floor, you are probably the kind of person who could most benefit from walking up 18 steps once or twice a day. There is no logical reason to take the elevator up one floor. Its ridiculous ... I suggest a four floor minimum ride.

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