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Culture Shock

When I moved to Seattle after 26 years of residence on the East Coast, I knew I would be making lifestyle adjustments.  I imagined investing in more waterproof footwear and learning the difference between recycling and compost.  I was prepared to approach all “cultural differences” with an open mind and sense of adventure and use my new life on the west coast as a chance to slow down.  In the past year I’ve been here, I have adapted to re-useable shopping bags, bikes being everywhere, DOGS being everywhere, but the one thing I cannot navigate is how to ride an escalator in Seattle.

Of course, there are escalators in the East Coast.  But the way I was raised, was to view an escalator as invention to help fast moving people move even faster. If you hear the subway train approaching, RUN DOWN THE ESCALATOR; about to miss the opening kick-off at Gillete Stadium, RUN UP THE ESCALATOR.  However, do not mistake the brisk speed of escalator riders for chaos or disorganization because there is an important factor to remember… and that is unofficial escalator etiquette.  The unofficial escalator etiquette is known by all and is as follows: “Stand right, walk left”. These are words to live by, because if you intend to ride stationary on the left hand-side (or God forbid THE MIDDLE), one of two things will happen.

A) Someone will bump/push you aside or

B) You will get yelled at.

The unofficial/official knowledge is, only tourists stand so the faster you walk, the more New England-y you appear.

Keeping the above in mind, you can imagine my dismay when I came to realize there was no such escalator code of conduct in Seattle.  My initial rides were awkward and uncomfortable.  Like Moses trying to part the Red Sea, I would ask stationary people to move so I could get by.  This usually resulted in people becoming extremely apologetic to the point that I started apologizing too (for reasons I am unsure of). When I try standing on an escalator, it feels like I am not using the contraption to its full potential- like using an iPad as a coaster. I understand that for some people, an escalator can be a break from a busy day and a chance to relax even for a few seconds.  For me, it’s a year later and I still avoid escalators.  If an escalator is completely open, I’ll jump on and relive my glory days, but other than that, you’ll find me wheezing on the stairs.

About The Author

Claire is the Admissions Recruiter for the Northeastern Seattle campus and works closely with recruiters on the Boston and Charlotte campuses as well. Previously she worked for other Higher Education institutions such as Bentley University and Tufts University but was inspired to become part of the Northeastern team after receiving her Masters in Education from Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies in Winter 2012!


  1. Ex-New Yorker here, I agree! I feel bad when I excuse myself past people and I usually just end up grumbling under my breath behind them as we ride the stairs. I have no problem with those who have injuries or need a break but it’s just like standing the doorway of an elevator.

  2. I’ve been living here for 20 years and I still haven’t gotten used to this. My commute-bus deposits me at the bottom of the convention center and I have to climb three escalators to continue my walk to work.

    When there’s an event, it’s always a stationary ride up. When there *isn’t* an event, it’s still a stationary ride up. Best to take the usually disabled middle escalator, or what we like to call Stairs. If you’re fit, you’ll still beat most everyone else escalating.

    Be brave. It doesn’t get better.

  3. I moved here from New York City almost 20 years ago and can tell you why you’re apologizing when they apologize. You’re catching the Seattle passive aggressivety. When they apologize to you that profusely, what they’re actually saying is, “you don’t like that I’m standing here? Well then you can shove it, schmuck!” And when you apologize to their apologies, their passive-aggressive ears hear you say, “Just get outta my way already fer chrissakes!”

    It took me about 10 years to realize how easy it is to become passive aggressive when you’re asurrounded by it. Another 4 and I still find myself slipping back into passive aggressive from time to time. Don’t let this happen to you. Just ask nicely to get by and let them know “it’s fine” when they move and apologize. Really, there’s nothing worse than going back east for a visit and feeling like a Schlub cause you’ve forgotten how to get through the crowds effectively.

  4. Has anyone witnessed what happens when an escalator is broken (also known as “temporarily stairs”.) It must be sheer madness.

  5. I thought this was hilarious. I just moved from Seattle to attend the Northeastern Boston campus. The first thing I noticed was how rushed people were to get places – always brushing right past me. I thought people were rude and aggressive. Lo and behold, I now walk up the escalator. :) I will admit, when in groups though, I really wish people would stand beside me instead of walking way ahead of me. What is it they say? When in Rome, do what the Romans do.

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