Good governance and emphasis on infrastructure have made Dubai one of the fastest growing metropolitan cities in the world. It has among the busiest airports, the widest bump-free, signal-free roads, round-the-clock electricity and water, among other things, all achieved within 60 years.
Sadly, what Dubai could not do was set some standard etiquette for people of over 100 nationalities who live here, one of them being escalator etiquettes. This is what separates Dubai from the other Tier-1 cities.
Where are the escalator etiquettes?
So, you know it takes you exactly 38 minutes to travel to work every day. You have memorised, down to the last second, the time each leg of your trip takes. The time it takes to walk to the bus stop, the time it takes to reach the metro station, and the time it takes to walk from the station to the office. You even know that a little sprint will help you catch the early train since the next one will come only seven minutes later. To someone who counts seconds, these seven minutes are precious.
You may have mastered your calculations and accounted for traffic jams and bus delays. But, dear reader, admit it, there’s something that still baffles you, leaves your calculations prone to errors, something you still haven’t managed to fit into your schedule that runs like clockwork. It’s people on escalators.
Escalator etiquettes are hard to come by in a city where traffic lights – for vehicles and pedestrians – are sacrosanct, and where it’s normal to expect social courtesy from complete strangers.
How many times have you been halted in your stride just because the two gentlemen in front of you are too engrossed in their conversation and have failed to leave enough space for you? The 25 seconds you spend standing still on the escalator seem like ages. Your train leaves without you, and the seven minutes that you wanted to save will now be wasted waiting on the platform.
Most countries follow a simple rule. Walk on the left, stand at the right. Easy to remember. Easy to implement. But people seem to forget this rule whenever you are in a rush. Next morning you might find a woman standing right in the middle, her bag in one hand, smartphone in the other. There’s barely enough space for you to squeeze by. You prefer to stand behind and wait, and watch the train leave once again.
Now, a counter-argument could be that someone in a rush should always take the stairs. They are wider and usually less crowded. However, running down a staircase has its own perils. You are more likely to find people with children, or old people who hesitant of getting on an escalator, or even people with luggage who didn’t know how to balance their belongings on the escalator. You may also find jay-sitters. I have more than once hit people sitting on a staircase because those walking in front of me moved at the last minute and there was no way I could have stopped without falling over. Plus, staircases have traffic in both directions. Therefore, the escalator is the better option. And it’s faster.
If standing in the middle of the escalator was not enough, people also have the habit of stopping at either end of the escalator. While stopping before getting on the escalator isn’t much of a problem, stopping after getting off can be dangerous. You may have completed your little journey and perhaps wanted some time off, but there are people behind you, and unless you quickly clear the exit, they will have no option but to push you, step on your feet and bump into you. And this will only lead to more crowding, and the next lot of people will have still more people to bump into.
While signs prohibiting smoking, eating and drinking are abundant at metro stations, a new sign – indicating that chewing gum is an offence – has been put up recently for those who didn’t consider gum as an eating offence. Stickers on the floor advise people to stand to one side and wait for passengers to get off the train first. It’s time people are reminded of escalator etiquettes too.
The other pressing issue is, hold your breath, racism.
Last weekend, while returning home from work, I noticed an elderly white woman enter the Metro. Instead of taking the only empty seat, she chose to stand. Probable reason: a black man was sitting in the adjacent seat.
We may have become open-minded and inclusive over the years, but certain social stigmas dog us even today. Earlier you could hear about racial discrimination openly. Today, you talk about it in whispers. But it exists.
Examples of racism are common in the West, which has predominantly white population, but seeing such discrimination in Dubai, considered the melting pot of nationalities, is saddening.
It smudges the image UAE has built over the years. It belittles the labour put in by the authorities to ensure everyone is treated equally irrespective of nationality and religion. It defeats the sense of belonging in the expats who, in Dubai, have found a home away from home.
No law has succeeded in scotching racism. At best, it has swept it under the carpet.
A permanent solution to eradicating discrimination lies in schools. Remember Jane Elliott, the American schoolteacher who had created the famous “blue-eyed/brown-eyed” exercise? The exercise classified blue-eyed children as superior while brown-eyed ones were inferior. Blue-eyed children were given privileges over the rest. This was reversed a week later, with brown-eyed children becoming “superior”. In both cases, the “superior” group was happier, performed better in class and ignored the “inferior” students. Meanwhile, the “inferior” group saw a sharp drop in morale and academic performance.
This exercise, conducted shortly after Martin Luther King’s assassination, drew sharp criticism. Today, it has formed the basis of workplace diversity training in several companies and organizations.
As for the elderly woman in the Metro, she remained standing for the rest of the journey.