Elevator Etiquette: The Essentials

Had George Washington been born 200 years later, his famous quote on the necessary virtues of a society would no doubt have read “Religion, morality and elevator etiquette are the essential pillars of civil society.” Few situations are as uncomfortable as when someone violates the unwritten social contract we all have with the moving box.  However, based on thousands of rides in thousands of elevators, it is clear that elevator etiquette is as dead as General Washington.

So in an attempt to restore some sanity to our vertical commute, we’ve assembled the basics of elevator etiquette.


Get off the Phone

Like Kip, we all love technology.  But like the foreseeable ‘cell phones on airplanes’, not every breakthrough is a step in the right direction.  In the good ole days, people would have to wrap up their conversation before the signal-crushing doors slammed shut.  In some of the most horrific cases, they’d actually have to call the person back…in forty seconds. How the country made it through this difficult period in history, we’ll never know.  Spoiler alert: you’re not that important and nobody wants to hear your conversation.  Hang up.


It’s Not Stalking Practice

In the absence of a stage or screen, there aren’t many places in society where a room full of people uniformly face the same direction.  Yet while there’s nothing particularly interesting about staring at the door of an elevator, what is interesting is that you won’t creep people out by facing the wrong way.  The only time you should be facing everyone else in the elevator is when you first step on, which should be immediately followed by a glance at the floors selected, a push of a button (if necessary) and a 180 degree turn.


Maximize Entropy

Add a drop of food coloring to a glass of water and the particles don’t stay in a neatly formed drop – they disperse.  When stepping on an elevator, consider yourself liquid dye.  With the addition of each person to the elevator, riders should adjust their positions to maximize personal space (see Figure 1).  If standing six inches behind someone in an otherwise empty elevator is not criminal, it probably should be.

Figure 1. Elevator organization among unrelated individuals. A) Two people properly arranged, B) Three people in correct alignment, C) Three weirdos in an elevator.



Go More than One Floor

If you’re an otherwise healthy individual don’t jam up the elevator flow with your laziness.  If Reinhold Messner can scale Everest with no oxygen, you can tough out the grueling 10 foot vertical climb to the floor above you.  Should you choose to ignore this advice and take the elevator for a one-floor ride, be aware that every individual on the elevator realizes what you’ve done and is quietly judging you in their heads.  Exceptions: if you have a physical ailment, you’re carrying or wheeling heavy load of cargo or you just finished an Ironman competition, you’re excused.


Don’t Move Gas from one Small Box to Another

Maybe it was last night’s enchilada.  Maybe it was today’s broccoli cheese soup.  Doesn’t matter – you ate the meal, now you have to deal.  You would be offended if someone else did it, so this kind of olfactory violation is personal and don’t count of the veil of anonymity to protect you.  There’s a reason “blow gas” rhymes with “low class.”


Mind Your Manners

It’s called ‘getting out of an elevator’, not ‘running of the bulls‘.  Stuck in the back of the elevator?  Before lowering a shoulder and taking prisoners, try saying “excuse me, getting out” to let those in front of you know you need to get by them.  As it turns out, simply asking folks to step aside works just as well as a stiff elbow to their kidneys, so unless you’re a nephrologist, why not try the former.


Dress Appropriately

Just finish running gels or performing surgery?  If you didn’t want to touch something with your bare hands, neither do we – so take off those gloves, scrubs, facemask or booties before entering the elevator community.  While black tie attire is not required, we’d prefer not being exposed to whatever it is you just got geared up to avoid.


Earn Some Good Karma

See that person just feet away from the closing doors?  Of course you do – and they see you too.  Take 20 seconds out of your day to do a favor for someone else and hold the door.  If you literally can’t spare that much time, you need to get up earlier or find a new job because no schedule should be that tightly packed.   Now let’s just hope the person you let on didn’t have enchiladas last night…



Have any additional elevator etiquette to add?



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7 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. Anne

    wrote on June 29, 2011 at 11:54 am

    I just love seeing students walking down the hallway wearing gloves. Most take them off when I say something …. except one undergraduate chem student who always wants to argue with me about it!

  2. [email protected]

    wrote on June 30, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Next time ask them to stick a finger in their mouth – if the gloves are that clean, it shouldn't be a problem…

    In reality, there's probably nothing harmful on the gloves a majority of the time (if doing routine benchwork). However, it's a good habit to remove them every time so that when there is something dangerous on them, you don't contaminate the whole area.

  3. Barbara

    wrote on June 30, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Don't hog prime spots or take more than your share of space. As in the "Maximize entropy" item above–and this applies in spades to riding the bus, too–though you may feel you are entitled to stand just where you were when got on and not move, no matter how many others are getting on and having to jockey for space, you aren't. This is a communal experience and requires common courtesy.

  4. Sara

    wrote on July 3, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    The worst is an elevator ride with someone with bad breath. Going up 20 floors with someone who is breathing out what smells like the inside of a sewer is pretty heinous. While it's also a matter of general hygiene, brushing your teeth when you know you'll face a crowded elevator is just generally good form.

  5. Sean

    wrote on July 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Let people off the elevator before attempting to get on it.

    Related – people naturally move to the side of the elevator which initially opens (assuming it's not a double door). If you are going to get on the elevator it makes sense not stand at that spot which will block people trying to exit.

  6. lifts

    wrote on July 25, 2011 at 11:36 am

    I love these comments and thing they should be displayed on a laminate in every elevator in the world. It always amazes me that people just forget about personal space the minute they step into an elevator

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