The doors slide shut: now it’s just him and me. I look at my shoes, thick with dust from my short trek across the car park. He looks up at the ceiling and makes a noise that reminds me of a neighing horse.
He is my lift buddy. Our friendship will last, at most, 19 floors until I leave the elevator and never think of him again. But right now, the awkward silence that fills this 3 sq m area is like the tension between two boxers waiting for the first-round bell.
He looks down, so I look up. Has he noticed the dust that covers the black leather of my shoes? I look down to check if his are clean. He looks up. His shoes are spotless.
I can’t handle it any longer, so I take a deep breath and open my mouth.
Silence. For a moment, he looks at me as though I’m a mad man. He then manages what barely qualifies as a smile, and it’s back to the shoes. My attempt to break the tension with small talk is rejected. Well, that’s fine.
I don’t get it. When you move into a high-rise building, nobody issues you with a leaflet on lift etiquette. So what are the rules? I don’t want to seem rude, but neither do I want my neighbours thinking I’m a needy, friendless weirdo. If there’s a middle ground, I’ve never found it.
I’m not particularly good at small talk, mainly because I don’t care. I don't care what someone I’ve never met thinks about the humidity/the traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road/the differences between an African and an Indian elephant. And I’d bet my last dirham that he doesn’t care what I think about those subjects either. This social convention is foreign to me.
Perhaps I just need a system. Whenever I find myself in a lift with a stranger, I’ll hold back on launching head-long into a rant about one of the big three small-talk subjects: sport for men; weather for women; and for children – um, I don’t know… counting? (Correct, I have no children).
Instead, I’ll patiently gauge the approach of my travelling companion. If he smiles and nods, I’ll do likewise. If he engages me in conversation, I’ll offer what I consider the correct response: I’ll stare blankly at him before checking his shoes for dust. Well, he started it.
Jamie Goodwin is our assistant online editor. If you see him getting into the lift, head for the stairs…