Elevator etiquette dropping fast [Commentary]

Solange, Ray Rice turn box into boxing ring

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In 1886, the New York Times and the Chicago News engaged in a mild war of words over whether it is necessary for a gentleman to remove his hat on an elevator when there are ladies in the car.

More than 100 years later, the estimable Miss Manners, the final authority on all things polite and impolite, was asked to enumerate the rules of elevator etiquette.

Her most memorable declaration might have been that if you fail to successfully hold the door open for an approaching passenger "assume a look of regretful ineptitude to show that person that nothing personal was intended."

Today, of course, Baltimore Raven Ray Rice and celebrity sister Solange Knowles have set new standards for elevator behavior in which the cramped square seems to have become more of a boxing ring than a mode of vertical travel.

Mr. Rice is charged with assault, accused of knocking unconscious his then-fiance, now wife, in an Atlantic City elevator. A security camera recorded him dragging her limp form off of the car and into the hall.

And Ms. Knowles can be seen attacking her brother-in-law Jay Z on security footage from an elevator in New York City while his wife, Beyonce, simply looks on. Perhaps more embarrassing is the glimpse of Jay Z crossing his hands in front of his crotch when his sister-in-law charges him.

We are clearly a far cry from whether to remove your hat in the presence of a lady.

Elevators forever altered the world's skylines in breathtaking ways, but they have never been anything but a self-conscious experience for the riders. The awkward dance with the disembarking passenger, the reach around bodies for the panel of buttons, the total silence, the way everybody stares at the numbers overhead.

Apparently we can't stand to be in close quarters with strangers for even a few seconds.

There have been many attempts to lighten the mood in elevators. The infernal music. Video screens. Art work. Stuff to read on the walls. And there are any number of web sites dedicated to "fun things to do in an elevator," although they all seem designed to annoy fellow passengers.

(Examples: Meow occasionally. Pass out religious tracts. Bet the other passengers you can get a quarter up your nose. Shake hands with each new passenger and tell them they can call you "Admiral.")

And let's not forget that annoying guy in the office who advertises his fitness by always taking the stairs. Please.

The Orwellian proliferation of security cameras watching us wherever we are — parking lots, subways, sports stadiums and airports — should have been warning enough for Mr. Rice and Ms. Knowles not to do anything in an elevator they wouldn't want to see on TMZ.

But apparently tempers flared and overcame good sense. It must be particularly galling for the entertainers to learn that a security guy reportedly earned $250,000 for handing over the tape of their family fight to TMZ.

So, in another example of things you didn't think you had to explain, here are some tips on how to behave on elevators, according to Miss Manners and Emily Post.

Allow others to exit before you enter; volunteer to push buttons for those who can't reach them and face the elevator door because it unnerves the other passengers if you do anything else. Don't volunteer to hold the door while your companion runs back for something.

Don't talk on your cellphone or have conversations of a confidential nature. Avoid talking at all, as a matter of fact. A simple nod of greeting to someone you know is fine.

The person closest to the door exits first, man or woman. Resist the urge to preen in the shiny surfaces. Stare at the numbers, not another passenger. "That's creepy," Miss Manners has written.

Should gentlemen remove their hats? Your call. The world of etiquette continues to be divided on the topic.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at sreimer@baltsun.com and SusanReimer on Twitter.com.


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