I have now lived in Europe for over a year, and previously spent a month here followed by another two weeks. People often ask me what qualities of Europe I’ve found strange or different, what’s shocked me the most. I always have trouble answering – I’m still in developed countries, usually Western, so I’ve just adjusted to the small cultural and infrastructural differences as they’ve arisen. Truthfully, there is only one thing that never ceases to shock me:
Europeans stand still on escalators.
I come from a land of gas-guzzling and gluttony, entitlement and excess. My people have made revolutionary breakthroughs in the name of laziness and leisure. My sister and I once convinced our mother to purchase a triple-hinged piece of plastic that was supposed to make it easier to fold t-shirts. People ride electric scooters on the streets of my home city as if they’re motor vehicles. But despite growing up in a country where meals, cars, and human beings all come super-sized, I have never been as disappointed in humanity’s potential as I was when I learned the hard way that Europeans stand still on escalators.
I held Europe to a higher standard than this. Europeans eat better, exercise more, cycle more and drive less. Food production is more regulated and balanced, as is personal intake. Not to mention that American stereotypes, such as the ones listed above, seem to be pretty fun to talk about over here!
Well, I’m just disgusted. I’m disheartened. I’m sad. I’d lived for almost 30 years under the impression that Europeans had the whole “moderation” thing figured out. I suppose it was foolish of me to think that the grass is greener on the other side of the Atlantic, but this is outrageous. Europeans stand still on escalators.
In the land of the free, the rule is that you stand still on the right, you walk on the left. The standing section is for the ill, the tired, the elderly and frail. People with children, or perhaps carrying several shopping bags. My quarrel is not with them. It is with the able-bodied adults and teenagers that refuse to put forth an effort on a futuristic conveyor transport device that can cut the travel time between floors into fractions of what it would be on a traditional staircase.
How dare you, Europe? Have you not learned of hubris from your ancient Greek and Roman ancestors? Hephaestus crafts a magical tool to make inter-story travel a bit faster and easier for us mortals, and you use it as an excuse to give up altogether? Shame on you. Electric wheelchairs exist too, but that doesn’t mean you should use one just to get out of walking.
(OK, that actually happens in the US, but that’s another story.)
Now, to be fair: Some Europeans have told me that they, too, have the stand right/walk left rule, but in my experience, that rule is observed about as much as the universal “no blackface” rule is in the Netherlands. Oh, sure, some people get it, but that doesn’t stop a million Zwarte Pieten from descending upon the streets Amsterdam every year.
The escalator was multi-level architecture’s compromise with humanity. It’s meeting us halfway. We’ve spent much of our existence struggling against slopes and inclines, and finally, something came along to make the process a little easier. Finally, the steps beneath our feet do some of the work. Some of the work. There’s a reason the design of an escalator takes the form of stairs instead of, say, a recliner. Are we really that coddled that we can’t even climb a few stairs? Do we need escalator attendants to hold our hands as we transit between floors?
Europe, this is unacceptable. You wait patiently as the escalator moves you from one place to another, as if unaware that you, too, can play a role in your transportation. I am astonished that so many people can be so complacent.
There’s a famous quote often attributed to Edmund Burke that comes to mind: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” That’s exactly what you do when you stand still on an escalator: Nothing. If you won’t make the effort, then take the damn elevator or get out of the way, and leave the escalators for those of us that haven’t completely given up.