Not so much that (but I’ve had the song stuck in my head all morning). More like this:
I’ve stumbled upon an odd little pocket of propriety in the most curiously small place: the elevator in my office building. During my first couple of months as a rider, I thought the niceties were a fluke attributed to a handful of cheerful ladies, accidental encounters with people who happened to be having a good day. But the longer am I here, and the more trips up and down I take, I have slowly come to realize that the elevator has created its own ultra-polite subculture with very clearly defined etiquette. Perhaps someone forgot this essential piece of my training when I came on board, but I’ve slowly caught on. I know what you’re thinking. “Maybe the people in your building are just really nice people.” This would be a logical conclusion, and while I wouldn’t disagree, per se, I am not afforded the same courtesy elsewhere. For example, it is completely optional to acknowledge a pleasant smile and hello in the hallway, but the elevator? You might as well get off on the first available floor.
Here’s how it goes. When you get on the elevator you greet everyone in it, usually with a salutation appropriate to the time of day. Good morning, good afternoon, are easy standards. After you’re in and situated, usually with your bag between your feet as to not poke anyone around you, there is mandatory small talk about any of the following: the weather (always a favorite), a common hardship specific to the day of the week (“I can’t believe it’s only Wednesday, can you?”), or the standard compliment on someone’s shirt/shoes. It is acceptable to piggy back off of someone else’s compliment, i.e. “Yes, I agree! That’s a lovely shade of red on you.”
Then there are automatically assigned roles, much like sitting in the emergency exit row on an airplane. If you are getting onto the elevator solo, you must turn around and poke your head out while holding the door open to make sure no one is trying to catch it before it departs. The person standing closest to the keypad acts as the elevator’s operator, and politely surveys everyone in said elevator to make sure their floor has been registered. It is also not appropriate to pass judgement on elevator usage. If someone gets on at the first floor and requests you push the button for the second floor, eye rolling will not win you any favors.
Despite not actually knowing anyone’s name, or anyone else addressing others by name, the elevator is a microcosm of acceptance where everyone is received as a familiar face, not unlike Cheers. (Norm!) If someone were to be passing around candy, I’d probably accept it with little to no worry of needing an antidote for any common poisons. If I were to find myself in a tragically plummeting car, I’d be confident that there would be hand holding and possibly even hugging; no silent despair here, we’d all go down together and no one would sue for being squished on the bottom of the heap.
Alas, once you get off the elevator, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. Quick steps to be the first at the filtered water fountain, sideways glances when saying hello, after having to step out of someone’s ambiguous path. (Left or right, just pick one!) Decorum elsewhere must have been tightly wound around the dial-up modems and fax machines, tossed to the curb long ago, but the elevator remains a little bubble of forced civility. Perhaps one of these days I’ll just ride up and down all day, getting the scoop on why everyone is especially tired for a Thursday, what kind of bagels were picked up next door on the way in. I’ll be the one handing out candy and salutations appropriate for holiday cards. Until then, I will silently trudge down the long hallway waiting for that little beacon of a ding when the door opens.
*Featured image photo credit: Yuya Tamai