Elevators and subway cars

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Incoherent cultures of public courtesy: Chile and the US.

Subway culture in America: Embarking passengers stand aside while disembarking passengers exit the car.
Subway culture in Chile: Passengers on both sides fight past each other when the doors open, elbows swinging.

Elevator culture in Chile: The first person onto the elevator holds the door open, temporarily assuming the position of elevator attendant. He/she waits for everyone in sight to enter and then allows the door to close
Elevator culture in America: Everyone stands in the back of the elevator, hoping it will shut in the face of the fat woman stampeding towards the closing door and thus enabling them to begin their journey 2.5 seconds sooner. If successful, smirks and furtive glances are exchanged.

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3 Responses to “Elevators and subway cars”

  1. Nic Says:

    I would argue that people in the US (NYC in particular) *do not* stand aside while passengers are embarking. You’ve never seen the Japanese subway system. Now *they* stand aside and allow people to disembark.

    In Hong Kong they even have painted lines and arrows that show the flow of traffic and where you should stand if you’re waiting.

  2. phil Says:

    True Nic … sucks to be a Caucasian sometimes.

  3. Sam Says:

    Great post, Phil. Same happens in Mexico City–on the subway, you’re liable to get run over like a running back going against linebackers on a football field, and on the elevator people are overly cautious to give you the right of way.

    My original hypothesis was it was a class thing. The elevator is used by a white-collar class, while the subway is used by a working class with a different level of desperation and potentially different social mores.

    Now that I think about it, another hypothesis is that the elevator is a more intimate group of people. You work with these people, so it’s important to keep up civility. The subway is composed of strangers, so who cares whom you elbow as you get on or off. At risk of making a gross generalization, I would say that many Latin cultures put a higher premium on treating friends in a preferential way, while our Anglo culture supposes that we shouldn’t treat strangers so much differently from our friends. Hence we act similarly on the elevator or subway, while the Latins act much different.

    What do others think?

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