Things that I think and do
Aren’t lifts really weird places? There are few other places where such awkward silence descends almost immediately upon entering. We – I say ‘we’ because I think it’s a mostly British phenomenon – just seem to be unable to start, or even maintain, a conversation in a lift.
It must be some kind of reaction to the enclosed space and proximity to others, even if we know them. Some self-preservation instinct kicks in and tells our vocal cords that if we make any noise other than a discreet cough the other occupants of the metal cabin will make sure we are socially ostracised or possibly attack us.
Instead of talking, we adopt any tactic necessary to avoid interaction with the other liftees. I often go for the “blank stare at a random spot on the wall” strategy, or perhaps check my phone or make sure all my fingers are still present and correct.
The only permitted conversation (if it can be so called) is to establish which floor everyone else is going to so the appropriate buttons are pressed. In extreme circumstances one can comment on the length of the journey between floors, but frankly you’d have to be high or something to stretch to that. If the cabin is full of people, on no account must anyone remark how crowded it is. You must suffer in silence, except for perhaps a polite throat-clearing if someone treads on your toe.
Nothing must be said even when some utter tool gets in the lift to go up – or worse, down – only one floor. On balance staying silent is almost certainly a self-preservation technique in this case, because vocalising what you think of their sheer idleness by calling them a lazy dickhead would probably cause some tension.
I reckon it’s the same thing as when you’re on the bus or the train. You’re relying on something else to get you where you need to go, something you have no control over, and that engenders a feeling of discomfort, compounded by the fact that you’re in a confined space with people you don’t know.
How often, when you’ve got somewhere to go, do you just stand still and wait to be taken there? It’s unnatural. This is why lifts are intrinsically awkward places – everyone just wants to get to their floor and carry on their journey outside that metal cage of social unease.
I could end with some pithy remark about taking the stairs instead, but if I climbed up the five floors I need to most days I’d be rendered useless for conversation anyway. I’ll just take the lift and hope that no-one’s in a talkative mood. I feel optimistic about that.