Sunday, 29 November 2009

A guide to lift etiquette

You get into work, carefully go through the swinging doors that you will inevitably walk smack-bang face-first into one day but mercifully haven’t done so yet, and into the lobby. You press the electronic 'lift' button. A whirr and a clunk. The doors open and into the lift you venture.

To the uninitiated/unsarcastic/downright boring, it’s a maximum 40-second journey, a simple means of transportation getting you from ground floor to mid-tower block office.

It’s just a lift, right? Wrong.

Getting the lift is an integral part of the pre-work process - it sets you up for the whole day. Your mood can hinge on whether someone is acting like a twat in the lift. A lot can happen in those 40 seconds.

In an ideal world, the lift would be empty. And let’s face it, the worst a lone person can do in an empty lift is self-harm.

But lifts involve other people, and, as Sartre, agoraphobics and David Mitchell can testify, Hell is other people. It’s a metaphorical and literal journey frought with dos and don’ts, full of various unpredictable oddballs - a veritable volcano of social awkwardness waiting to spew pyroclastic feelings of intense unease over you.

Other people’s actions are magnified twentyfold when you know that, albeit for an uber-brief period of time, you are trapped in a moving box with no other place to go.

So, here are the main lift types, plumbing the range of the social spectrum. See how many you recognise, in an I-Spy kind of way; hell, see how many categories you fall into. And no, I’m definitely not reading too much into this:

1. The normal
Normals like to think they’re in this category on every lift trip, but really it’s one out of three times at best. Courteous, will press the ‘open door’ button if they hear someone running. Yet, tactful enough to know that the best lift conversation is no conversation.

So, for that interminable ride up to the twentieth floor, they will subtly stare at the lift’s wooden panelling so long and so intently that they can see the termites eating away the first layer. This is how it should be; it beats making eye contact. You don’t want to be a number 9, do you?

2. The ‘blanker’
The lift journey is 40 seconds long. Do not make eye contact with the other forms of pondlife in the lift. Do not help by pressing the button. Do not make room for others. Dead to the world, will suddenly stir and show signs of life at their floor. Take note, this is also well observed by other human beings on the Tube or considerate bouncers when faced by repeat-offender drunkards.

3. The ‘flincher’
May have been unloved as a child or sexually assaulted by a religious official. In a crowded lift, will suddenly twitch wildly, akin to a spring-heeled Michael Flatley, when accidentally touched or having their feet trodden on.

4. The ‘optimist’
“Rise and shine, what a beautiful morning, did you see the sunrise today?” a cheerful woman (90% time a woman, seeing as men are too lazy to be optimistic or wake up in time for the sunrise) says to the rest of the lift as if they’re lifelong buddies, rather than total strangers. ‘Well, love, it’s winter, Croydon has never looked more soulless and that sunrise was actually the Home Office on fire. But yes, civil disobedience and arson has never been so hauntingly beautiful.'

5. The ‘captain’
Will say things such as ‘All aboard!’ and ‘All hands on deck!’ to fellow lift passengers. All well and good, but this isn’t the HMS Pinafore. As you leave the lift, you can easily imagine him* never actually going to work, instead riding the lift 9 to 5 every day, repeating the same jolly, slightly-camp nautical platitudes to confused comers and goers.

6. The preener
Our lift at work has a full-way mirror in it. The preener is prone to playing with his hair for the entire duration of the lift journey, assiduously making sure not a strand is out of place. You think ‘you utter preening tit’ - until you find yourself subconsciously doing it the very next day. Oh well, we’re all vain creatures at heart.

7. The talker
Pipes up with inane conversation when any sane person knows that the only appropriate question allowed in a lift is ‘which floor you going to?’ And let’s face it, you aren’t going to discover your soulmate by chatting to a randomer in a lift.

And if you do, then invent a better, more romantic story for the wedding speech: ‘When our eyes met across the dangerously-over-crowded office lift after he got on at Floor 5B, I knew John was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with…’ (on that note, see number 12 actually)

8. The moron
Similar to 7, but more annoying. Gets in with at least one colleague from their office and blathers on about something utterly banal. Most painful when it’s a two-on-one situation and even worse when they somehow manage to betray a dishonourable or un-PC character trait in a 40-second journey e.g. racism (‘Too many colours in this town, knowwhaimean mate?’), sexism (‘I was gonna fire her, but she was too attractive’) or, worst of all, utter moronicness (‘Babes, I’ll join you at Tiger Tiger in a few hours, just have to worship at my Katie Price shrine and go to the tanning salon’).

Annoyingly, most of us have been lift morons, albeit unknowingly and for lesser offences than the three listed above.

9. The ‘starer’
Possesses a shocking lack of social graces. This is terrible for a two-in-a-lift situation. Slack-jawed, the starer gawks – regardless of gender, age or attractiveness - transfixed, like a pubescent teenager at Channel Five’s post-midnight line-up. Like a balding man in a midlife crisis at a red Porsche in a showroom.

At this bombardment, your thoughts switch from ‘Why is he staring at me to?’ to ‘Does he fancy me or something?’ to ‘Is this how the Texas Chainsaw Massacre started? Is he going to brutally gut me?’ with startling alacrity. This is a rare one, mercifully.

10. The dick
Usually under 35, a child trapped in a man’s body. Just before departing the lift, may suddenly press all the buttons in the same gleeful manner that a 5-year-old child goes along every key of a piano, before darting out with a giggle.

Alternatively, may let off wind before departure. The child in you wants to giggle and shake his hand for the sheer daring and chutzpah. The adult wants to give him a sharp jab in the face for turning a simple journey into a foul-smelling gas chamber.

11. The phoner
Walks into a lift on the phone and proceeds to shout ‘Hello? I’m losing you. HELLO? Signal’s really bad mate, it’s really crackly. Hello. HELLO? HELLO??’ Well done genius, the lift isn’t sponsored by O2 or Vodafone, so work out that there’s no network in a lift. Your friend on the other line probably isn’t that bothered about talking to you anyway.

12. The lovers
Much like star-crossed teenage lovers in front of a Hugh Grant rom-com, they will proceed to make out as soon as you enter the lift, as if they were just waiting like twisted exhibitionists for someone to witness their red-hot passion. Aah, there’s nowhere to look – the mirrors make it look like there’s four couples making out! You just want to get out before they start going at it, doggy-style, on the floor.

These ‘oh-get-a-room-you-two’ kinds of obstrusive public displays of affection are more common at popular places of transit rather than lifts - say, on street corners, by traffic lights and in train stations.

And finally, the most heinous of all…

13. Mr. One-Floor
This is the worst: so simple, yet so annoying for the lazy idiocy of it. Best observed when in a crowded lift, when there is only 30 seconds supply of oxygen left and lift inhabitants are desperately gasping at air pockets like a sailors trapped in the hull of an overturned catamaran. Gets on at the third floor, gets off at the fourth floor. A one-floor journey.

Everyone in the lift – this is perhaps the only occasion when strangers in a lift are allowed to show any kind of cohesion - mentally pillories him; in fact, never in history has one person lost the respect of so many strangers in one so fell swoop. After he leaves, there will be tutting or someone indignantly saying “Unbelievable!”

Unless you have a serious injury, there is NO EXCUSE for a one-floor journey. Use the stairs next time, Mr. One-Floor, you lazy fuck.

If the lift jams...

As a bonus sub-category, there’s three types for the eventuality of the lift getting jammed. When 40 seconds becomes five or ten minutes, it doesn’t really bear thinking about. Nobody can ever be completely "normal" in this situation.

1. If the lift jams: The panicker
‘Maybe we’re going to die!’ the panicker shouts, harbouring thoughts of lift cables snapping and him plunging 40 floors to an unceremonious death.

Despite the fact the lift's only on the third floor, this isn’t a New York skyscraper and the cables are made from sturdy, modern materials, not liquorice laces. Refuses to be calmed by fellow lift-dwellers and the sensible logic they employ, instead quickly folding himself into the foetal position, rocking back and forth for the length of the three-minute lift jam.

2. If the lift jams: the hidden panicker
Slightly too cool/wannabe cool to immediately show his consternation that the lift is stuck, when really his screaming thoughts are precisely ‘THE LIFT IS STUCK, I’M GOING TO DIE IN A METAL CUBE’. His panic becomes quickly evident from the flop sweats and nervous tics he develops.

Harbours romantic notion, spawned from too many Hollywood flicks, that the solution to the problem will climb down the lift shaft and remove the roof, hauling him to safety, presumably with ‘Love Lifts Us Up Where We Belong’ playing in the background. When, in fact, the ‘saviour’ is a hairless and obese handyman called Dave. The hidden panicker leaves the lift, po-faced, with a quiet ‘thanks Dave, sorry for the urine patches’.

3. If the lift jams: The beleaguered worker
‘Maybe we’re going to die!’ the beleaguered worker shouts, harbouring thoughts of lift cables snapping and him plunging 40 floors to an unceremonious death.

But wait, this is what he wants; death is the sweet release from his meaningless life. Over fifty, scraggly-haired and wrinkled, the beleaguered worker has done the same, pointless menial job for 30 years and lost the will to live some time around when Steps lost the will to live.

Unpredictable and dangerous for you because you start imagining him clambering out of the lift and attempting to bite through the lift cords like a cornered rat.

*To any bra-burning feminist out theres: I use him a lot, but it’s not meant to be sexist. Rest assured, darling, both men and women are equally fallible when it comes to bad lift etiquette.

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