Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Escalator etiquette

It turns out that the seemingly worldwide convention 'stand on the right, walk on the left' is familiar to only about 60% of the residents of Budapest. I'm curious about how this happened, and what it says about Hungarian culture. I've taken for granted that in DC, Moscow, and every other city I've been in with escalators, people will contritely get out of your way if they forget and park themselves on the left hand side. Here, it doesn't happen. If you don't get to the escalator as one of the first 10 or so people, there's a very good chance that someone will have, given a choice between standing on the right and left, decided to buck the general trend and block the left hand side. And it's rare that they get the hint and scoot over when you come climbing up the escalator behind them.

One hypothesis would be that it's a symptom of a culture that's more accepting of waiting and less accepting of hurrying. There are plenty of places where this is the case. People in much of Europe wait for walk signs to turn green, even if there's not a car in sight. But Budapest is not one of those places. It's definitely a get-across-as-fast-as-possible kind of city.

This should have been an opportunity to learn the Hungarian for 'excuse me', but I've somehow forgotten to ask anyone.


Menob said...

I noticed that phenomena in Hungary as well. I've always assumed that it was a result of a combination of the following factors:

1. The escalators already move at a break-neck pace.
2. the steps of the escalators are much taller and steeper than escalators in the west making them difficult to climb.
3. Trains come every 3 - 5 minutes, so why run?

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