When elevators go bad

Elevator etiquette generally dictates that you pretend the other passengers are not there. Here you are, trapped together in a little box with a gaggle of complete strangers, and you are all trying not to stare at each other. For some reason, people feel this unspoken taboo quite strongly, through a kind of osmotic consensus.

Things get subtly stranger as the elevator gradually fills up. The more people there are in the elevator, the more directions there are for each of you to avoid looking. The important thing is not to accidentally acknowledge anybody else, since this would certainly bring down some terrible wrath from the Gods, and most likely end all reality and existence as we know it.

But when you are entering the elevator with a friend or colleague, there is the time-worn strategy of continuing the conversation that you and they had been holding before you’d entered the elevator. As a group of two or three people, empowered by numbers, you can just pretend that the elevator ride isn’t happening, whilst you and your colleagues and amigos make your collective way down to that sandwich shop around the corner.

In its own way, it’s a brilliant solution. Why not simply collectively ignore this unfortunate detour into civilization’s little chamber of vertical alienation? Why not just continue discussing Kierkegaard, or that Simpson’s episode, or that Simpson’s episode about Kierkegaard? Before you know it, the doors will open and you can all escape back to reality.

Which is all well and good, until another group of likeminded comrades enters from another floor, with pretty much the same idea in mind. They bring their conversation to the elevator, pointedly ignoring the presence of your group. Meanwhile, after the briefest of pauses while your group sizes up these rude upstarts, you and your friends resume your conversation, perhaps just a bit louder than a moment before.

This strange ritual continues all the way down to the lobby. For if the sound of two individuals ignoring each other in a tiny space is silence, the sound of two groups of people ignoring each other in that same little space is cacophony.

When at last the elevator door opens, both groups pour out and continue their respective conversations, each carefully failing to acknowledge that anything at all has just happened.

But something has.

3 thoughts on “When elevators go bad”

  1. When I was little, my grandfather used to make me stand in a closet for five
    minutes without moving. He said it was elevator practice. — Steven Wright

  2. you sure you didn’t overthink this one? and are you telling me you don’t get into random conversations with ppl in the elevator? they’re short and sometimes pointless, but often better than the awkward quiet. but i guess nobody had me do elevator practice when i was a kid…

  3. Yes, yes, I confess, guilty as charged. I do get into random conversations with people in elevators. As a child I must have had bad elevator training. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *