Social customs: elevator etiquette

So I’m in the foyer of the building I work in, and I’ve pressed the button for the elevator. I’m just daydreaming about what I’ll find waiting for me in my inbox. I’m alone. I’ve got my iPod on, half listening to some podcast to occupy my mind in the tedious minutes before clocking on. I’m waiting to one side of the elevator doorway so that when the door opens any occupants can get out without any inconvenience. I’m cool like that. Always thinking of others.

That’s the plan, anyhow. Over the dulcet tones of the podcaster yammering in my ears I hear the bell announcing that the elevator has arrived on my floor. It has been only a few seconds, perhaps less than 15, since I pressed the button. Honestly I couldn’t tell if it was 15 seconds or 15 minutes. At that time of day it’s all the same to me.

From my vantage point on the left side of the open doorway, I can see that there’s nobody on the right side of the elevator waiting to get out. I wait a couple heartbeats. This time period straddles the line of giving enough time for any unseen occupants on the left side of the elevator to get through the doorway and not being long enough for the doors to start to automatically close.

After these few heartbeats, I start walking through the door almost, but not quite, like the workers in Fritz Lang‘s Metropolis. There’s a woman standing inside the elevator right behind the left bulkhead, I guess you call it, looking at me like I was something she had stepped in. “Aren’t you going to wait until I get out?” she says gruffly, the smells of cigarettes and nail polish wafting through the air. I hadn’t seen her from the same position outside the doors. “Oh, sorry” I say, and take a step back. She spends another second bending down to pick up her handbag laying on the floor of the elevator and stomps past me out into the foyer, her snooty nose pointed skywards and her lips puckered and looking like a cat’s bum.

I didn’t know what to think, really. I’d waited what I thought was a good amount of time to allow anyone in the elevator to get out. Perhaps it wasn’t long enough. But I know those elevators and how long the doors generally stay open before automatically closing and I was cutting it pretty fine. Why had the woman waited so long to start moving? Indeed she needed to retrieve her bag from the floor which took another second or so and if it weren’t for me standing in the doorway then the doors would have already started closing.

You may think differently, but I thought I was treated unfairly by this woman. Usually when I get off the elevator I’m already in position right in front of the door which serves two purposes:

  1. it allows anyone getting in the elevator to see there’s someone (me) waiting to get out; and
  2. it saves time for others so that they don’t need to wait for me to get my act together getting out the door, holding them up on their way to wherever they’re going.

I don’t know. Maybe she was daydreaming herself and got caught out and decided to take it out on me. Maybe she’s a passive aggressive drama queen, needing some kind of attention from anyone even if it’s negative. She might have expected a fight or at least a glare back, and I let her down by not giving it to her.

But the question remains: What is the acceptable length of time to wait for someone to get out of the elevator? Does it matter that you can or can’t see them?