Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hong Kong Chronicles: Elevator Etiquette

I think I'm getting used to life here. Nothing has hit me as strange it's more appropriate to say, I haven't done anything strange and out of sync with the rhythm in Hong Kong lately.

But, I do have something I just figured out lately regarding Elevator Etiquette. Even between Wisconsin and Texas, I found general differences. For example, in Texas, ALL men allow women to go first...through a door, on the elevator...even to the point of stacking up awkwardly to allow a woman to go first. That was kind of fun the first time I realized that. I really didn't know what to do. Wisconsin...well, let's just say it's a little more egalitarian...sometimes men let women go first, sometimes they don't...I mostly grew up there, so I never noticed the pattern until I moved to Texas.

From my point of view, the quirk over here in Hong Kong is when people get off the elevator, as soon as your coattails clear the door, someone is pushing the "Close Door" button to get the elevator moving. In other words, if you're daydreaming, fixing your hair in the mirror, or taking a nap, you'll miss the elevator. Heck, you may even miss it if you are paying attention! In Texas, this would be interpreted as a rude, "I-don't-want-to-be-on-the-same-elevator-with-you" move. Not here. This is an efficient traffic flow move. You should see the stacks of people lining up in the morning and at lunchtime! After the first few months, I jumped onto this habit. Now, I even step up to the elevator operator position to keep the elevator moving as the crowd peels off to their respective floors (although most people don't expect a foreigner to be manning the elevator buttons).

The other habit is one that just swam out of my subconscious into my stream of awareness. It's something that's been niggling at me for months, but my brain was busy processing so many other things, this hadn't pinged my radar of consciousness until recently.

It has to do with the Bunching Factor.

Observations about US characteristics...first, that people are individualized and personal space comfort zones are about 3 feet. When in a crowded space (such as an elevator or underground train) people will bunch and disperse based on the socially ingrained comfort zone. When a crowded space disperses, people generally reconfigure to the socially acceptable distance.

A few observations about Hong Kong: the culture is much more do things in groups. Combine that collective nature with smaller personal space zones, the tendency is to bunch into a group...and stay bunched, even when space frees up. This niggled at my subconscious for a long time...people would get off the elevator but maintain their position, much to the chagrin of my claustrophobic self. I had this feeling that something was "off" but just put my finger on it a few months ago...people didn't de-cluster from their groups even if space was available.

It was strange to go back to Dallas and have people evenly space out in the elevator as space freed up and actually wait for the elevator doors to close. I think I'm going to have reverse culture shock going back to the US...people will be looking at me strange as I stand at inappropriately close distances and close the elevator doors on them.

To sum up Elevator Etiquette by location:
Texas = Chivalrous
Wisconsin = Egalitarian
Hong Kong = Efficient

What is Elevator Etiquette like by you? Have you noticed differences when you visit somewhere else?


  1. For health reasons, I've taken to using the stairs, unless I'm with my son and it's after dark. But I always make sure my son knows to let others get off first.

  2. I never knew about the "unwritten" man rule of letting women off elevators first until I started working in a building with an elevator 7 years ago. I had never heard of this practice but it seems every man here (Pittsburgh, PA) knows it! Now I know to hop out of the elevator right away when we arrive at my floor because the men will stand there until I step out!

  3. Lori - I've seriously considered taking the stairs. But, they lock the door between floors. And I work on the 43rd floor. Home is more reasonable...9 floors, but I've been letting myself off the hook lately. Zach sounds like a nice, well-mannered kid. Well done!

    ArtyBecca - I know! It was so awkward the first time that happened to me. Actually, it took me quite a while to get used to it. It's funny when it makes more sense logistically for men to get off the elevator first, but I've been on the elevator when they scrunch up to let you get off. It's kinda nice. :-)

  4. nyc= i'm in front of the door because i wanna be...if you knew your floor was next & you were getting off first you should of been the one to plant yourself in front in the first i'm not moving for no with it...going up?

  5. Nancy, LOL! So, NYC = Efficiency + Attitude? I have learned the efficiency principle of trying to place myself in the elevator relative to where I'm getting work, I work near the top, so I go to the home, I live on a lower floor, so I try to stay near the front.

  6. Sitting here with my morning coffee, checking my fav blogs... thanks for making me smile!

    I can't really comment about lifts (UK name for elevators) as I haven't been in one recently. But I do remember pushing my kids in their pushchairs in shopping malls... and it did used to annoy me when the lifts were full of able-bodied people too lazy to use the stairs who would just look at me blankly when the doors open and close again as there was no room for me and my lot.

    Kristin :)

  7. Thank you, Kristin. I'm glad you had a little laugh. I love reading the different etiquette from different parts of the world. I should be calling elevators lifts as there is a strong British influence here in Hong Kong...but, I tend to wander between American and English phrases.

  8. oh yah!...I experienced what Nancy is talking about in NYC...attitude away!...not many elevators in NM or VT so I am completely out of practice!
    I worry about getting squished in the doors on the rare occasions I need to take one...!

  9. I love it...the bunching factor. I'm in a class on cultural awareness and that's such a great's the little things that are different everyday that add up. :)