“May the rest of your day be less awkward than the elevator ride.”
Ding! The elevator announces its arrival and the doors slide open.
A young woman using a mobility cane steps inside the empty car. A random stranger follows her in (this isn’t going to get creepy, I promise). Male, female, it doesn’t matter, the scenario always plays out the same.
Floor numbers are pressed. The elevator dance begins.
As though it’s been pre-choreographed, the two occupants take up real estate in the back left and right corners. They nod a polite hello at each other and then quickly avert their gazes.
The floor is suddenly very interesting.
The young woman starts playing with her phone but can feel the stranger’s stare. The elevator starts its journey.
Time to get awkward.
Random Stranger: “Whaddya do to ya leg?”
Accompanied by a hand pointing in the general direction of the young woman’s legs to indicate the topic of discussion. Just in case she was confused and needed clarification.
Long awkward pause.
A combination of exasperation and irritation flashes across the young woman’s features. She stands there thinking “Not again! How long until my floor comes up so I can get out of here?”
Young Woman: “I hurt it.”
Another long awkward pause. Both parties studiously avoiding eye contact.
Random Stranger: (Inhales. Rallies) “So what’s wrong with it?”
Doors open on the young woman’s floor. Saved!
Young Woman: “See ya!”
The young woman is me.
Multiple times per week random strangers in the elevator ask me very personal questions about my physical appearance.
They see the mobility sticks. I get it: The sticks are bright and funky and cool. And I’m young and pretty (apparently I have tickets on myself but that’s ok, I’m the writer and I’m all for self promotion).
They see the mobility scooter. Same scenario as the mobility sticks except now I am really short and they are tall and able to tower over me.
Just remember that I’m a feisty little thing and height intimidation doesn’t work.
They know that it’s none of their business. They know that the questions should not be asked. Yet some inner compulsion drives them to satisfy their curiosity within the confines of those four small walls.
It certainly makes for some interesting social observations and reflections as I relive the awkward elevator experience like it’s Groundhog Day.
Here’s my top seven:
1. The elevator is an intriguing social space where the etiquette is not really defined. We get into a small confined box with a bunch of strangers everyday but it never gets any less awkward. The seconds feel like hours. Everyone is trying to get somewhere. People are popping in and out like popcorn.
Conversations start and end mid-sentence. There is a perception that if you don’t say anything, it’s awkward; if you say something, particularly the wrong thing, it’s awkward. The conclusion? The whole experience is just awkward.
3. Generalist conversational starters like “Hi, how are you going?” are totally overrated and must be bypassed to get to the good stuff. Because hello, limited time opportunity here!
4. Playing on one’s phone and pretending to be busy does not deter people from asking nosy, annoying questions.
5. If curiosity killed the cat, then discretion is certainly the better part of valour. Elevator conversations, if you must have them, should be short and limited to fluffy bunny topics like the weather. It’s not appropriate to fire off just any old question that pops into your mind, no matter how burning a desire you have to know the answer.
Speed bump check your inner monologue and ask yourself, “Self, if I say this/ask this question of a complete random stranger, will things get really weird really quickly?” If the answer is “Duh, yes!” then save yourself the embarrassment of being written off as an insensitive jerk and steer clear of the Spanish Inquisition.
6. Remaining absolutely silent is a totally acceptable option that is completely underrated and underused.
7. I love the stairs. If only I could use them!
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