I’ve always really liked Colombian manners in lifts (aka elevators) because it’s so warm and fuzzy and polite, but today I saw the other side of the lift doors in a new way as I was heading out to enjoy the first of three long weekends in Colombia this month (yes really, three almost-consecutive Mondays of public holidays woohoo!).
One thing you notice in Colombia, and Latin America in general, is that when you get into a lift, everyone will greet each other with a hola, buenos dias or buenos tardes. At first as a cold and solitary Westerner riding the lifts it was shock, but it’s actually a really lovely custom that I’ve grown to love and embrace. And as if the greeting wasn’t enough pleasantry for one trajectory into the heavens, you get farewelled when you get out with a ‘hope you are well’ or ‘see you later’. Awww. Lift riding brings out the best niceties in Colombians.
Or so I thought until this afternoon.
I rode down from my floor in an express lift with one other person to the ground floor. While he didn’t give way to me – as a woman – to leave the lift first as is often the case in Colombia, he shared the space politely. Please note, if you are a foreign woman sharing an elevator with a Colombian woman, you must ALWAYS cede to her native-born female right to leave before foreign women and men.
When we arrived at the ground floor, the doors parted to reveal a stocky man with a deadpan face standing directly in the middle of the doorway, toeing the line formed by the edge of the marble floor and the liftwell. He was so perfectly centred in the middle that he appeared first as a nose, followed by eyes, ears, shoulders and hands in quick succession. My companion and I started towards the doors to exit the lift, doing those preparatory movements you make to signal what your real move is going to be, and all the guy on the other side did was stand as still as a statue, perfectly blocking the doorway and not even blinking one dead eye in response to our ‘we’re getting out now’ jig.
I thought there would be a stand off to see who would give way first, but my lift buddy wasted no time exiting on the left, turning on his side to shimmy past the giant stone obstacle. Alone in the lift I also just wanted to get out, but still the guy waiting to get in the lift did not budge.
I have to admit my time in this new skyscraper with its fancy lifts is short, but I had seen this situation once before (although it’s never happened in our apartment building or in the previous building I worked in) and it reminded me of other impolite impasse behaviour I’ve witnessed in Bogotá. It reminded me of a Transmilenio bus stop.
For those not familiar with Bogotá, the Transmilenio is a train-like mass bus transit system notorious for overcrowded buses and stations. One incredulous aspect of it that riles me no end, is the utter chaos of boarding and disembarking the buses. There are zero rules and even less logic applied when it comes to these two rather critical parts of getting somewhere. There is no pause to let people off the bus before trying to board and definitely no giving of a little space so people can get off the bus and in turn make some room for those wanting to get on. There is also no moving aside to allow others past if you are at the front of the line yet this isn’t the bus you want to get on. It is mayhem and requires an excellent barging technique to get around these people whose only thoughts are about themselves and where they are going, with no concept of how give and take can actually make for a more effective and comfortable ride for everyone.
Since staring off at my nemesis wasn’t getting me out of the lift any quicker, it left me no option but to copy the side shimmy of my lift buddy, except that I added my own twist to the manoeuvre and quipped “This isn’t the Transmilenio, you know” as I slid past him and raced to the building exit without looking back to see if he’d understood the barb.