Elevator Etiquette

Since most people live in high-rise apartments, Koreans spend a lot of time riding elevators. And the rules for what’s allowed and not allowed are a bit different here. They are almost all reflective surfaces, so it’s like a big mirror all around you.

Usual or Allowed:

  • Checking yourself out …looking at your reflection. You don’t have to be shy about this. You can fix your hair, remedy any blemishes on your face, check your teeth, your butt, anything’s ok. It doesn’t matter how many other people are in the elevator.
  • Carrying your recycling and compost. Most of your life is private, but your decomposing food, empty beer cans, plastic wraps of your Ghana chocolate moon pies. That’s all out in the open on display for 20+ floors while you awkwardly balance five different types of recycling categories from your apt to the recycling center on the ground floor.
  • Answering your phone. It’s fine to answer your phone and talk loudly. And you can even utter some surprised words when it cuts you off, as it does always around the fifth floor.
  • The elevator itself will greet you when you walk in. A woman’s voice announces “going up” (olahanmida), “going down” (melahanmida). Also she has helped me learn my numbers. i-ship-i choen (22nd floor). ship-pahl choen (18th floor).

Not Usual:

  • People don’t talk to each other unless they are friends and are talking as they walk on.
  • Even if you get off on the same floor and walk down the hall together, nope.  

I get it now. You spend a lot of time riding, with a lot of people. Maybe it’s too much to greet everyone all the time. And, who needs a 3-way mirror. You can check out all sides of yourself in the elevator, and adjust anything that needs adjusting. ha!

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