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Small Differences

September 8, 2012

Folk wisdom tells us “it’s the little things that matter”.  Matter or not, they sure get noticed.  Something you notice quickly coming to India from the US is: elevators.  The buttons on many elevators here are arranged like these:


This is the elevator where I work.  US folks I’m sure will instantly notice the difference; the floors go up first on the left side, then restart and go up on the right side.  I have seen Westerners wanting to go to the 2nd floor mistakenly press 5, because it is to the right of 1.

The elevator at my apartment looks like this:


Elevators like this are in the minority here in India.  This is the US style, where the numbers are arranged so that all the “higher” ones are at the top.  Also notice it uses the Indian convention for actual numbering of floors.  In the US the floor at ground level is called 1; in India that floor is called 0 or ground, and the 1st floor is what in the US we would call 2nd.

Why is the ordering different?  The US view would be that our ordering is more intuitive, that all higher floors are accessed by “higher” buttons.  For example at my work elevator the button for 4th floor is lower down than the button for the 3rd floor.

But calling that intuitive assumes several things.  One is that we care about the physical height of floors.  More and more the floors in an office or apartment building are abstract destinations, places you go to without knowing or caring about the physical relationship to the other numbered destinations … until, of course, the elevators aren’t working and you have to use stairs.  Anyway it seems less clear to me nowadays that the height attribute has the power it once had.

A second and probably more important thing is reading order.  Indo-European languages are written to be read side-to-side.  Traditional Chinese is written up-and-down.  Many elevators here in India are in fact made in China, so I suppose this aspect of writing may be in play here.

Conclusion: Look before you press.

Categories: Sundries, Technology, Travel
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