Cultural Observations of Lifts

On the surface, lifts are lifts, and this is all they are. A metal box of transportation that takes us from floor to floor. The better version of stairs. Growing up, lifts were quite an irrelevant topic of conversation; not much to say in regards to them, all they do is bring us to our destination. As an unobservant child, lifts were not the place for understanding new things. The noticing of behaviours and etiquette was not something my mind had capacity for at such a young age in this kind of setting. It wasn’t until I grew up that I realised lift etiquette is a very real, and cultural, thing. Now it seems that these seemingly insignificant metal boxes have a lot to offer in the observation of human behaviour and cultural differences

My first experience of lifts was a very British one; polite, awkward and with a hint of ignorance. Passengers enter the lift, face anyway they please. It does not seem to matter if there is just one other passenger in the lift — even if they end up accidently and unavoidably staring directly into each other’s faces, stubbornness beats awkwardness . Not only are us Brits known for our awkwardness, but through analysing our lift manner, it appears that we ask for the awkwardness in some cases. There we are, making the conscious decision to stand directly facing someone, without a single word spoken. We are definitely not known for talking to our fellow lift passengers. It is just a case of shifting eyes and trying too hard to hold in coughs.

The first time I noticed a different dynamic in lifts was four years ago when I found myself in America. Firstly I was required to adapt my lexicon to new words and phrases, one of which was swapping lift for elevator for the few months I vacated there. Usually I manage to adapt to my present location all too easily, and in America this was most definitely the case, however when I arrived back in the UK, elevator stayed in my dialect for a good while longer than expected.

The American lift etiquette seemed to very much conform to how fellow passengers acted. I had never thought about the prospect that social conformity could be higher or lower in different places, but I guess this proves it in some way. Everything seemed a lot more serious and organised than the British lift etiquette. No facing strange directions or face to face awkward stares — just simple stares at backs of heads and walking out in a normal order, no will-they-won’t-they make the first step and walk out of the lift that happens all too often in Britain.

It could be said that the British lift manner encourages more communication than the American way, but I would be lying if I told you I had frequent conversations with people in lifts. It is just not how it is over here. It is tense and quiet, even if there is the odd smile thrown around every now and again. These are just two cultures that differ in the way they behave in lifts — next week we will throw another culture into the mix to see more differences of behaviour in the metal box.

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