TORONTO — Elevator etiquette has always been important, because in tight and crowded spaces, proper behaviour is crucial. COVID-19 has only upped the fear and discomfort of being crowded together in a travelling box for many.
CTVNews.ca asked three of Canada’s experts in etiquette about what has changed and what has stayed the same when it comes to navigating elevator rides.
Nancy Kosik, founder of the Nancy Kosik Academy of International Protocol and Etiquette in Montreal, says politeness should rule right now, even when others aren’t doing as they should.
“Remember, it’s all about patience and kindness. Watch your tone when instructing others, and choose your words wisely. In today’s environment you want to be as polite as you can be. You can’t be too polite.”
Margaret Page, a business etiquette coach in Vancouver, says it’s a good time to explore taking the stairs, both for the great exercise and to avoid taking an elevator wherever possible.
She also recommends practising smeyezing (smiling with your eyes while wearing a mask).
“There is enough fear, frustration and anger. Make someone’s day in a positive way,” she said.
“Etiquette is about collectivity,” says Julie Blais Comeau, chief etiquette officer at Etiquette Julie in Ottawa.
“It’s what a culture decides is appropriate and right now, safety and security has precedence. We are all in this together, so give others the benefit of the doubt and spread some kindness.”
The following answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What should I use to hit the button? Is my foot preferable to my fingers?
JBC: Your foot is not preferable. You could use a knuckle, an elbow or choose to wear gloves that you dispose of or wash. But doing acrobatics with your feet is not elegant, or hygienic and could lead to an accident. Bear in mind, too, that showing the sole of your shoe is considered an insult in some parts of the world.
The maximum capacity for the elevator in my office building is three. How do I handle it when a fourth person tries to get on?
MP: The elevator where I often need to go has a limit of two. When the door opens and there are several people waiting I say, “We are at capacity. It won’t be long. You’re next in line.” It’s good citizenship to leave people in a positive frame of mind.
Is talking off-limits?
NK: Yes, talking is off limits even without COVID, unless you are in a private elevator where everyone in the elevator knows one another. In normal times, conversation on the phone or with a friend must cease when entering an elevator that is shared with others. It is considered a close space and conversation impedes the personal space of others. Therefore, in COVID times, it’s all the more important.
Is it OK to face the walls or the corner when others are onboard with me?
NK : In today’s times, I see no issues doing so if this makes you comfortable. Ideally, we are looking at one person per corner, if the elevator is extra large you might consider one person in the centre, with everyone facing away from one another.
Someone in my condo refuses to wear a mask on the elevator. What should I do?
JBC: The responsibility would lie in the hands of the board of directors of the condo, so report that behaviour. Unless you are on very friendly terms with the person, don’t take their behaviour into your hands. Go through the proper channels. But it’s perfectly OK to say that you will pass your turn on the elevator and wait for the next one. If they press, just say, “I don’t feel comfortable because you’re not wearing a mask.”
Should I hold the door anymore?
MP: Pre-COVID, I was adamant that my grandsons hold doors for everyone and look at the people. I wanted them to have awareness about others and treat people with respect. Now I encourage them to do so only when they have gloves and a mask on.
I am creeped out by people touching the handrail or leaning on the wall in the elevator. Should I say something?
MP: For years I have thought it’s unsanitary to touch the handrail. The exception was when I needed to steady myself on an escalator. I don’t recommend giving guidance to others on what to touch and what not to…. unless they are your children. People have more elevated negative thoughts and challenges than pre-COVID, so don’t risk a conflict with others.
The maximum capacity at my parents’ condo is two, but I have two little kids. Is it OK for three of us to be on together?
JBC: I think most people would be logical about it and say yes, it’s acceptable. But you could plan ahead and have a parent accompany you up, so that they take one child and you take the other in different elevators. That minimizes any risk or finger-pointing.
There are parents in my building who let their kids touch everything in the elevator. I don’t want to be rude, but can I say something?
JBC: Disciplining other people’s children or pets should never happen. If you know the parent, you could address it when the child isn’t around. Acknowledge that it’s challenging, but for their safety and for everyone else’s, it’s best not to touch. If you don’t know them, go through your condo’s board.
Shouldn’t able-bodied people not carrying bags or parcels or accompanying children take the stairs if they are travelling a floor or two?
JBC: Especially during the pandemic, there are lineups for the elevators and it’s often faster and more efficient to take the stairs. But be careful not to judge. Respiratory ailments and many others may not be visible. But if you can, be considerate and take the stairs so that others can get to their destination.
I am standing by the panel. What are my responsibilities?
NK: Ask people which floor, as in standard times. Nothing changes, and doing so now more than ever will keep you safe from people approaching you. Do so immediately and clearly, leaving no doubt as to what you want to do.
If I’m at the front of the elevator, should I get off to let others off and then get back on?
JBC: This is probably more relevant for pre-pandemic crowded elevators. With two, three or four people onboard now, the pathways are probably pretty clear. But remember that when you’re lining up to get on, line up to the right and let everyone off before you get on. It’s out before in, the same as at doors. Leave lots of space. Don’t rush forward and leave two metres of space.