The Escalator Shuffle

By | November 4, 2005

I’m not sure it’s confined to any one culture because I see it all over the world, and I still don’t understand it. The Escalator Shuffle is when people in malls or wherever race to be ahead of others on escalators, but then stand still as soon as soon they’re on it, usually two abreast — or however many it takes to block any idiot who insists on walking up or down. No one is expected to try to pass, or scowls will be exchanged.

This of course is a very strategic manoeuver, and leaves them well-placed to, er, do what exactly? It prevents anyone passing them, which can only be a good thing for one’s self-esteem, but raises interesting questions as to why they rushed to be on the escalator if they’re not in so much of a hurry that they’re actually going to walk up or down said escalator? Because they want to show off their new pants to the folk standing behind them? Because they find all the other people trying to get on the escalator really ugly and don’t want to have to look at them as they glide up or down said escalator? Because they are exhausted from racing so fast to get on there first they couldn’t possibly walk a step further?

I must confess I don’t understand this. In Jakarta, Singapore or Bangkok it seems natural enough not to rush the whole escalator thing. No one is in that much of a hurry in these places, unless they’re in a car. But it always amused me in Hong Kong because there everyone will use any ruse to gain an extra inch on everyone else. But still, except for poor delivery folk whose life depends on getting everything done in 30 seconds, the escalator seems to be sacrosanct, a hallowed neutral zone where everyone can stop for a second, mop their brow and stare at the next person’s ass (going up) or hairpiece (going down). I guess it’s Hong Kongers’ idea of a holiday. Maybe that’s what the Escalator Shuffle is: a short holiday, in the middle of a busy day doing nothing in an air-conditioned mall.

3 thoughts on “The Escalator Shuffle

  1. Randolph Barton

    In Washington DC, the Metro has very long escalators, and it’s a system wide custom that you stand to the right and the walkers keep moving on the left. I am always amazed at the impatience shown to tourists, who are obviously new to the city, when they stand on the left. I’ve seen elbows and shoving over issues of precedence that will not last more than one minute. Astonishing.

  2. shiraz

    in Rome it’s the same story — Italians are definitely of the group you describe. and (in addition / in contrast), they do that thing at the platform of pushing in like sardiney-lemmings (decades of notorious public transport reliability has perhaps left them wholly incredulous to the idea that there might actually be another train about two minutes behind this one).

    anyway, am starting to believe it’s a stair thing — that people are fine running and pushing and shoving, but that going up or down stairs is just too much like exercise…

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