The Hill Life: Elevator Etiquette

Jul 13, 2011


Several weeks ago, I was exiting the building after a long day when the elevator stopped on the first floor.  A group of interns and one staffer (young, probably a Staff Assistant) entered the elevator talking loudly and packing the car like we were engaged in a game of phone booth stuffing.  And then, they did the unthinkable, they pushed the button for the basement.

These a$$h***s were going down one floor.  They had waited for this elevator for several minutes and wedged themselves into the car like sardines all to descend one freaking floor?!?!?

The paid staff exchanged knowing looks.  We didn’t know one another, but in this moment, we were bonded by our seething hatred for the sloth and the lack of consideration for the yellow badge holders.

When the doors opened at the basement level, most of the group exited, but one preppy-looking intern stayed behind to ride down to the exit floor.  Not wanting to end his conversation with his friends, he proceeded to hold the door open so that they could continue talking. 

Seconds passed.  They felt like days. 

The doors signaled their displeasure with a loud and annoying beep.  He was unfazed. 

Finally, a staffer standing behind me cleared his throat so loudly that even I jumped a bit. 

Instead of realizing that he was holding up a car full of other people who wanted nothing more than to head home in a timely manner and letting go of the door.  The intern turned around and said, “No, I don’t care that you’re in a hurry.” 

I almost shoved him out the door in a fit of rage. However, I contained my furious urge to inflict bodily harm upon him and exited the elevator in favor of the stairs. 

When you work in a building where the primary mode of transportation is the elevator, having a good grasp of elevator etiquette is critical to maintaining efficiency and civility.  Here are some tips on elevator etiquette:

Use the stairs for short trips.  If you are only going up one floor or down one floor, unless you physically cannot do so, just use the stairs.  They’re usually within a few steps of the elevator and it’s good exercise.

If the elevator is full, don’t try to squeeze onto it.  The elevators in the House actually say, “This elevator is full please exit,” when they reach a certain weight limit.  But this isn’t just a safety concern, it’s simple manners.  Who wants to be wedged into an elevator between a half-dozen sweating staffers?  Either wait for another elevator or refer to rule one.

Don’t block the doors.  I hate nothing more than when people hold the door open to finish a conversation with someone not on the elevator.  I might be in a rush.  Someone else on the elevator might be in a rush.  If you want to chat, step off the elevator and wait for another. 

Be courteous.  The doors on the House elevators are timed to close very quickly.  If you see someone walking toward the door and they are reasonably close to the elevator, feel free to hold the door for just a moment.  I allow this one exception to rule three only because when you are looking at someone standing in an elevator, and you’re just a couple of feet away, nothing is more upsetting than when they let those doors close in your face.  That’s just basic manners.

Be aware of eager ears.  The things I’ve heard in Capitol elevators would make your toes curl.  From details about staffers sex lives to comments about Members that should never be said in mixed company to semi-confidential policy items, it seems that some staffers think the elevator is some kind of cone of silence.  It’s not.  If you don’t want anyone to hear what you are saying, ride alone.  If you can’t, keep your trap shut.

Welcome to steerage, Congressman.   Members have their own designated elevators.  These elevators are reserved just for them so that they can get to votes, meetings and events in a timely manner.  And I have no problem setting aside a car or two for the men and women with the Member pins.  However, some Members aren’t happy with that.

On more than one occasion, I have seen an elected official clear a full elevator because he or she wants to ride alone.  Now, I’m not going to name names, but if you’re Boss has ever done this in your presence, I would encourage you to encourage him or her to stop.  Staffers never forget this kind of behavior, and eventually someone is going to call Heard on the Hill.


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  1. BT says:

    Also what about people with breathing problems or heart conditions. The next time I have to use the elevator, to forgive me, travel one floor; I will be sure to first let everyone in the elevator know that I have a heart condition. So I will be allowed on the elevator without being subject to your thoughts, comments, scorn, or dirty looks. I am thirtysome and you would never know that I have a problem, but then again I thought my medical issues were supposed to be private. You might figure that out if you find me in a heap at the bottom of the stairs, one flight of stairs. Very disappointed in this post and the comments.

  2. Simone says:

    Oh my gosh. My jaw hit the floor when I read what that intern said. It's pretty sad that things such as basic elevator etiquette are lacking in those individuals. Good post Belle!

  3. Katie says:

    Omg! What an annoying twat. I probably would have yelled at him.

  4. MominHeels says:

    I think my colleagues on the other side of the building heard my gasp as I read what the intern said. Just wow. I would have said something. I have in my, elder 30 years, reached crotchety old lady status. I tell those little humdingers what is what. Otherwise, how will they learn?

  5. Oedipa says:

    Notes from the Senate side:
    The elevators in Dirksen are notoriously slow, and the ones by the cafeteria are particularly bad. This is a perfect example of when to take the stairs, especially at lunchtime when they're crowded with hungry, cranky staffers.

    Your comments about elevator conversations should be mandatory reading both on the Hill and off. I'm mortified by the things people say in public within obvious earshot of others, and even more so when they take place on the Hill. Discretion is a virtue, whether or not one's conversation topic is classified.

    One more thought: if you're riding to a higher floor and standing at the elevator doors, step aside to let people exit the elevator. The awkward shuffle that's caused by people sliding around someone standing in the doorway is entirely avoidable, and I have never yet been left behind by an elevator after moving aside to let others pass.

  6. Rachel says:

    What gall!

    I work on the second floor of my office building–but we can only take the stairs down, not up. I always feel awkward when I am joined by other people in the elevator, since I know they must assume I'm being incredibly lazy to take the elevator up one floor!

  7. Gloria says:

    hear hear!

  8. Lauren says:

    I admire your restraint in not telling the little jerk off. I only wish you were able to figure out who he was working for so someone could have complained to his supervisors.

  9. C says:

    For clarity: intern badges are silver. Paid staff are yellow. Please don't go lumping everyone in with the “inconsiderate yellow badge holders.”

  10. ashley says:

    Ugh you have no idea how much it annoys me when people go down one floor who are perfectly capable of walking.

  11. Belle says:

    I don't think all interns are this rude. My two this summer have been pretty good. But there are some that come here, know they're not staying, and use it as an excuse to behave badly. Your internship is not a license to act in a way you wouldn't otherwise. Most interns know that.

  12. Belle says:

    Ashley-Oh yes I do.

    The only thing that bothers me more is when people use the door opening button for handicapped people when they don't need to. Not only is it unnecessary, but when you are in a secure structure, it allows anyone to piggyback through the door.

  13. becca says:

    Another tip- in Rayburn there are escalators, usually positioned close to the elevators. They are usually behind those metal double doors and have a brown sign above them that says “down escalator” or “up escalator”. Now, you usually have to walk up them if they're crowded (they're only 1 person wide) but they are a good alternative when the elevator is crowded.

  14. Leanne says:

    AMEN to this, and I second Oedipa on the elevator shuffle!

    Our office, after our Chief and LD heard one-too-many random interns recollecting drunken nights on a packed elevator, implemented an Office Elevator Code of Silence. It's one of the policies distributed in the intern handbook. The idea is that though our interns won't follow it literally, they might be more discreet because of it. Here's to hoping!

  15. Grace says:

    This is the most ridiculous story! I think some people are just born clueless and inconsiderate and they really need someone to tell them face to face that they need to change.

  16. KH says:

    usually I agree with a lot on this blog – but I am slightly angered at the venting about going one floor on an elevator – the buildings on the Hill are confusing, and the stairs are not ALWAYS marked. I have taken the elevator to go 1 floor because frankly I would get so turned around if I tried to find the stairs. I would agree with the statement that getting in an elevator to go 1 floor is ludicrous elsewhere, but definitely NOT on the Hill.

  17. Belle says:

    KH-Seriously? You work for Congress, but you can't find your way around the building? They can be a challenge at first, but you should be able to figure it out after a few weeks. And the best way to figure out this labyrinth is to get lost in it and find your way back, otherwise you won't learn.

  18. EB says:

    Half the time you can't even access the stairs in my building (seems kind of unsafe, no?) so you have no choice but to get on the elevator for that awkward single-floor descent. I always feel people judging.

  19. CM says:

    Ive never seen a Member clear out a non-Member elevator for themselves, but sadly it doesn't surprise. What did surprise me today though, was a Member who invited all of the staffers standing around waiting for an elevator to join him in the Member's elevator. It was a win!

  20. ms. B says:

    A Member with manners! Who would have thought? BIG WIN, indeed.

  21. Amy says:

    I always used to judge people who took the elevator up or down just one floor until I heard a story from a professor in grad school. She said that she was late for a meeting and got on the elevator with someone else and the other person pushed the button for the next floor. My professor said that she was so flustered about being late for her meeting that she said something to the person about taking the stairs instead of the elevator only one flight. The person responded that she was recovering from knee surgery and because she was wearing pants and was off of crutches that it wasn't obvious that she couldn't climb one flight of stairs. My professor felt terrible and now always reminds herself that people can have “invisible disabilities” even when they look perfectly healthy. I always think that now when I'm in an elevator with someone who only travels up or down one floor. Just something to think about…

  22. Belle says:

    Look, most of the time it's obvious who needs to go one floor and who doesn't. The pregnant woman, pass. The guy with 1,000 copies of the bill to deliver, pass. The older gentleman carrying his lunch, pass. But I've seen perfectly healthy people, iPod in, delivering letters or collecting signatures all over kingdom come jump in the elevator just to go down one floor cause they don't think about it…we're programmed to be lazy.

    Sure, there'll be the guy who has a heart problem, or an aching back, I'm not openly going to criticize him. I'm not going to call him to task. If someone jumps in the elevator with me and goes down one floor, I won't say a word. But 90+% of the time, it's not because they have to.

    I am talking to the HEALTHY people, the majority of staffers. Get off your lazy ass and walk down a flight of stairs. It's good for you. If you can't, that's fine, I understand. But MOST people can and choose not to because we are unconsciously lazy. It irks me because lazy has become the default setting.

  23. Andy says:

    I probably would have yelled at him.

  24. S says:

    In addition to the people only using the elevator to go one floor, my biggest pet peeve are the people who throw a limb in the doorway to stop the elevator. Seriously, you are so important that you can't wait 30 seconds for the next one and you're willing to hold everyone else up? I end up fuming on mornings when we have to stop at every floor after 5 people have stopped the elevator from closing on the first.

  25. KN says:

    I work Senate side in the Hart building. While this did not happen to me, it did happen to my coworker earlier this week and when I saw this post I knew I had to contribute this little gem:

    My coworker went downstairs to Chef for a drink. She gets back on the elevator to go back upstairs and there are several other staffers all loudly chit-chatting away. Then, she realizes that one of the male staffers has undone his pants, has his belt around his neck and is tucking his shirt into his pants. On the elevator. As though this is his personal dressing room. I never thought that I would have to suggest this as an etiquette tip, but please, do not borderline sexually harass anyone in the elevators. That is all.

  26. Belle says:

    KN- I'm not sure that's borderline, I have a feeling she'd win that lawsuit. But either way, don't disrobe in the elevator….my God!

  27. Emily says:

    Speaking as an intern on the Hill, I'd just like to say that not all of us are quite that clueless (at least not in this area). Another intern from my office and I were on the elevator with a third intern yesterday when not one, but TWO separate people got in the elevator at different points for the purpose of going up one floor. The three of us exchanged significant looks as as soon as we were alone in the elevator we commiserated about how lazy some people can be.

  28. Belle says:

    I know. This isn't limited to just the interns, but this time, the offender happened to be an intern.

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