Italian Elevator Use Filter
August 4, 2008 7:59 PM   Subscribe

Italian Elevator Use Filter: Why do the Italians living in my building always press the down button on the elevator when they want to go up?

I'm living in an 8 story dorm this summer and a large group of dancers from Italy just moved in and their elevator behavior has perplexed my friends and I. On a few occasions there have been a group of people waiting to go up on the elevator with the up button already clearly lit. Then an Italian will go and press down, only to go up a couple of floors. Does anyone know why they would all be confused like that? Aren't there elevators in Italy? Do they work differently or something? I have nothing against the Italian people I just want to know why this whole group seems to be wrong.
posted by sdsparks to Travel & Transportation around Italy (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Having worked in hospitals in many different cities and towns over the past 16 years, I can confirm that this behavior is not limited to any particular national origin.

I could write you a book about my theories, but it boils down to: the people who do this do not understand how elevators work. There are more of them than there are of us.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:16 PM on August 4, 2008 [4 favorites]

Another possibility is that some cultures consider buildings differently; what is the first floor in the U.S. is "RDC," or rez-de-chaussée in France, and the corresponding (U.S.) second floor is actually the "first" floor. So floors labelled "1," "2," etc, might be misleading? I dunno.
posted by exlotuseater at 8:21 PM on August 4, 2008

When the elevator arrives to load people wishing to go down, do the people who pressed the down button get on and ride the elevator down before going up to there floor?

If so, they may be trying to sneak ahead of a large queue thinking they will get on going down just to make sure that they would be on when the elevator eventually goes up.
posted by GregWithLime at 8:31 PM on August 4, 2008

Again a guess, but perhaps they're indicating that they want the elevator to come down to them. I can understand people being confused at the need to signal their intended direction ahead of time, so instead they are trying to signal what they want the elevator to do right now.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:32 PM on August 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

Same in the UK; there, the 'first floor' is the 'first floor above ground level'. So there could be some confusion there.

The other option is.. may as well just get on the elevator now, and hit the button anyway, because I'll get there eventually.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:33 PM on August 4, 2008

I think kiltertaco has it.
posted by lunasol at 8:36 PM on August 4, 2008

Seconding the "come down to me" theory. I lived in a building with elderly people who did this. When I asked one such women why she pressed the down button, she told me "It's already up there. I want it to come down here".
posted by 2oh1 at 8:41 PM on August 4, 2008

I like the "I want the elevator to come down to me" theory. My mom will sometimes turn her car A/C dial to the red or "hot" setting because it's hot right now and that's the problem she wants solved. She lives in Arizona, you think she'd learn. Also, she's not Italian.
posted by mullacc at 8:47 PM on August 4, 2008

It's not just Italians. I used to do it all the time in my office building.

The elevators were erratic, so if an elevator door opened - even going the wrong way - it was a good idea to take it so that you would be IN the elevator when it started going the correct way. While my office building has since fixed their elevators, maybe your Italian neighbors are used to this type of erratic behavior, and push both buttons just in case.

Or what kiltedtaco said, that seems plausible too.
posted by gemmy at 8:54 PM on August 4, 2008

They might be talking at the moment they push the button.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:03 PM on August 4, 2008

Here it's full of Italians too (it's Italy, after all), but I'm guessing the percentage of those unable to understand elevators is more or less the same across all nations (all elevatoristically advanced nations, that is, and Italy - I'm happy to report - is one of those).

The up-down button layout (as opposed to the single button - which is still somewhat common in older residential buildings) is perfectly normal, so the "come down to me" theory doesn't make so much sense.

My only guess is they might be thinking that pressing the "down" button while "up" is lit, they're making a reservation for a downwards ride. And then step into the elevator and going up a couple floors because they don't want to wait / lose their priority in case someone on another floor calls the elevator before them.

Anyway, they're Italian and dancers. There, I said it.
posted by _dario at 9:23 PM on August 4, 2008

And then step into the elevator and going up a couple floors

read: they step into the elevator and go up a couple floors, obviously.
Like I said, I'm in Italy, CET, it's 9:30 MeFi time, you do the math
posted by _dario at 9:28 PM on August 4, 2008

And then there's the people who stand nose to door on the outside of the elevator, and who are surprised when the door opens and they are face to face with a crowded elevator the front layer of which needs to get off. Of course, the bozos don't move out of the way

This could be an entry in a chat-filter list of Why Are People So Dumb? and that behavior's more obvious and common in commuter trains. Why do people getting on push their way through the people getting off, 'stead of waiting a moment and letting those exiting get out of the way? (This pushing on is standard behaviour in the brand-new Delhi metro, BTW -- it's rather comical to watch, if you're not in the thick of it.)

I've heard one answer, possibly relevant to this thread's question. Those who do this are members of the first generation in their family to use this technology. Hard to believe re: elevators (and the better example now is drivers in China, who abuse their vehicles and others in traffic 'cause they don't know any better). In other words, people are figuring it out on their own instead of learning from their older siblings and parents about How Things Work.

Another, less charitable answer re: the train during rush hour is, to jump the queue and snag one of the few availabe seats.

Question for sdsparks: This happens on the ground floor of your building, correcto? Are there any below-ground floors the elevator travels to? If not, does pushing the down button on the ground floor when the elevator's upstairs have any effect (ie maybe that signal also summons the elevator... or is it ignored?)
posted by Rash at 10:26 PM on August 4, 2008

I think gemmy's idea is the correct one - these are people who have gotten used to crappy elevators. They punch every button in the same way that in a city with lousy public transport you might take whatever bus is going your way, or grab a taxi on the street after you've already called one by phone.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 10:57 PM on August 4, 2008

Perhaps they know what floor the elevator(s) sit on. So they call it with the intention of getting on and telling it to go the other way. For example, if they push "up", they'll get the car coming from the lobby or recycling room or whatever, which may be crowded. If they hijack the "down" car, there may be fewer people in it (and possibly none) and so they can take it up without any stops.
posted by acoutu at 11:12 PM on August 4, 2008

The up-down button layout (as opposed to the single button - which is still somewhat common in older residential buildings) is perfectly normal...

Really? It's normal in big buildings - both office and residential - but in smaller appartment buildings it is far from common, and there is usually just one "call elevator" button. So my guess is they simply don't know they are meant to tell the elevator which way they intend to go.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 4:57 AM on August 5, 2008

2nding acoutu. I think this behavior can make sense depending on how many elevator shafts there are and how good/bad the elevator controller/scheduler is. If you know which floors the elevators are on, and even better, if you also know in which directions they are going, you can probably do better than a crappy scheduler.

Contrived example:
You are in an 8 floor building, on floor 6. You want to go to floor 8. The 'up' button is lit. There is an elevator on the way up, but it's on floor 2 and it's taking its sweet time. There is an elevator on floor 7, and it's idle. In this case it makes sense to force the idle elevator to come to you by pressing down, even though you want to go up.

I just moved out of a building where sometimes both elevators would arrive at my floor at the same time, both open their doors, and then do the same thing on EVERY FLOOR going down. There are definitely crappy elevator schedulers out there. Mine had a race condition, but who knows what kind of other stupid elevator behaviors exist in the wild.

I can also see how this might become the default behavior for people who are used to crappy elevators.
posted by benign at 5:44 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

To tack on to what everyone else has said:

I've got the one button system in the building. A little sign saying occupato lights up when the elevator is in use or when I push the button to call it or when someone 4 floors away has forgotten to shut the frigging door properly.

So maybe they think that the lit-up up arrow means that it's occupato, whether due to logical fallacy en masse or simply a habit caused by crappy/weird elevators where their dance studio is located.

Ce l'hai con i ballerini, _dario? ;)
posted by romakimmy at 7:54 AM on August 5, 2008

A lot of people seem to think that elevators will come faster if there are more people waiting (i.e. pressing the button multiple times); maybe this is a manifestation of that? They think "hey, if the elevator thinks there's lots of people waiting here, both to go down and go up, it'll come faster!" so they press whatever button isn't lit when they show up.

Elevators, because they're one of those devices the 'intelligence' of which is mostly hidden from the user, inspire weird behaviors in many people. See also: walk/don't-walk signals, traffic lights. People often assume the machines are much smarter than they really are, or assign motivations to what are actually very simple timers/toggles/if-thens, because it's difficult to understand the logic when you're only looking at a small piece of the system.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:28 AM on August 5, 2008

They may have some weird strategy or they may just not get elevators.

If it's a lack of understanding, an explanation might fix it. Tape a sign to the wall that asks, "Which way do you want to go?" and then has "I want to go UP" with an arrow pointing to the UP button and "I want to go DOWN" with an arrow pointing to the DOWN button. They will figure it out. If you can write it in Italian, all the better.

If it's some strange strategy for hogging the elevator, though, you'll just have to put up with it until the god of elevator etiquette sends their elevator car plunging to a fiery death.
posted by pracowity at 8:59 AM on August 5, 2008

Suggested text for signage to attach beside the buttons:

"Cari amici, premete questo bottone (up) per salire, e questo bottone (down) per scendere. E per favore, non votate Berlusconi un'altra volta".

(The Berlusconi bit after the first period being a colloquial phrase commonly used in Italian when talking to dancers or other artists. Trust me. It is. I promise.)

Romakimmy - I worked a few times as a stagehand/sound tech for ballet shows - and helped in a friend's ballet school for some time. Let's just say that from my observations, dancing tends to take people's intelligence to extremes, either highs, or... ;)
posted by _dario at 10:10 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've seen people do this in America but never in Italy.
posted by Zambrano at 12:02 PM on August 5, 2008

Come to think of it, nowhere on the elevator is there a definition of what each button is for. So how are you supposed to know? If your mother told you "Be a good child and push the button with the arrow pointing up, because we want to go up in the elevator" you would learn what it means. Or if you were an observant child and saw somebody pushing the up button, then getting in the elevator and riding up, you would infer what it means. But if you are a dancer from Italy whose whole life revolves around dance and might feel at some deep level that machines are the archenemy of your art, you might not know what the buttons mean, or care. And pushing both buttons might make just as much sense as pushing the correct one.

Just thinkin' out loud, here.
posted by exphysicist345 at 4:19 PM on August 5, 2008

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