Encounters in Publishing #22: Elevator Etiquette, by Liz Mathews

In the building where I work there are twenty-one floors, not including the basement. My office and company happen to be located on the fourteenth floor, making elevator use a typical daily experience. I cannot say I look forward to this.

It’s not that I am afraid of elevators, or that I feel claustrophobic in them (well…), or that I’ve ever been trapped in one (actually, I have). It has little to with the New Yorker’s April 21, 2008, article, “Up and Then Down” and the accompanying video entitled “Trapped in an Elevator.” Rather, that work of reporting made me like taking elevators—they are ten times as safe as escalators! Also, for those of you who like pressing the “door close” button in an attempt to speed your ride along, a lot of times that’s just a placebo. You are not in control of anything

Anyway, the elevator experience in the Flatiron building leaves something to be desired because I do not know the rules of elevator etiquette, and seemingly I am not alone. Having lived in Japan, I know such rules exist. But no matter how much I wish otherwise, the Flatiron building does not exist in the land of the rising manners. It exists in New York City.

Here are some things that make me consider taking the stairs on a regular basis:

1. If one enters the elevator lobby at the exact moment that the nearest elevator doors open, it is entirely okay for that person to dash into said elevator, regardless of the ten other people who had been waiting for that elevator to arrive for several minutes. Gotta look out for number one, am I right?!

2. If a fellow elevator mate is going to a floor directly above or below and has already pressed that button, it still makes sense to stop on one’s own floor as well. This is particularly important and very pleasant because it allows the elevator to become a “local” and stop at every floor in between 5 and 13.

2.5 It is fun to talk about how the elevator has become a so-called local.

3. It is not uncommon for people to step into the elevator on the first floor and then only go to the second or third floor. There are several things that would make this okay: the person does not normally visit/work in the Flatiron and therefore doesn’t understand how the stairs work; the person has a health condition and cannot have a pulse rate above a certain level; the person is carrying something heavy or precarious or on wheels. That’s about it. Otherwise, from a sustainability perspective (see also Encounters #15) and ALSO a personal health perspective, I recommend the stairs.

4a. In the elevators, acoustics are not so great. As in, outdoor voices are often used, and the confined—and indoor—space boosts voices to double or triple volume.
b. Conversations at high volume do not cease even in an elevator that already has two or three other high-volume conversations going on.

5. Sometimes it is hard to tell if I should say hello to coworkers when they act like I don’t exist, or if I should allow an entire elevator ride to pass without acknowledging that we’ve ever seen each other in our lives ever at all. Will it affect my performance review if I don’t say hello? Or if I do?

That is, of course, not all. Feel free to find me in the stairwell for more.


Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.