A worldwide guide to riding the escalator

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Every new country you visit has different values and customs that are often exciting for new travellers to participate in, or at least learn more about. However, there is one custom that changes country to country – get it wrong, and you’ll be met with disgruntled locals.

Escalator etiquette.

It seems like a weird thing to get flustered over, but if you find yourself standing on the wrong side of the escalator, well, look out. It’s almost as important than knowing a couple key phrases in the native language. Because, stand on the wrong side, and you’ll probably learn a couple of key native swears instead!

So, to avoid the embarrassment of being told off in a public, we share with you our guide on how to ride some of the world’s fussiest escalators.

1. Japan

Japan, for the most part, is an incredibly busy country and has escalators all over its subways and shopping malls. Even so, the rules aren’t as hard and fast as they are in other countries. For example, if you find yourself in Tokyo, you stand on the left and walk on the right. But hop on over to Osaka and you have to do the opposite. No one, not even the locals, are totally sure why the etiquette varies across the country. But, if you get confused, just follow the person in front of you – they’ll know what to do.

2. U.S.

The United States walks on the right, drives on the right and rides the escalator on the right. This etiquette is so important that the National Public Radio even did a piece on the frustration of people who don’t know the unspoken rules of riding the escalator.

“If you’re going to stand, you’ve got to stand on the right and let people pass you on the left. Sometimes people, like, stand in the middle. That’s terrible,” said Maggie O’Brien in the interview.

So, when you’re in America, whether you’re in D.C. riding the Metro, NYC’s subway, Boston’s T, or Chicago’s L – make sure you watch where you’re walkin’.

3. China

When you’re visiting China you’ll often find that people like to stand on the escalators versus actually walking on them. It’ll be easy to see which side of the escalator the locals stand on – in this case, it’s on the right. Those who are in a rush use the left lane to cruise on by, so make sure you aren’t in their way!

4. U.K.

Londoners mean business, so when they are on escalators, they stand on the right and walk on the left- think L for London and left. Londoners don’t feel remorse about a tourist getting this etiquette wrong, so stand on the wrong side and you’ll almost instantly be met by someone not-so-politely telling you to get out of the way – which is actually probably the quickest way to learn the London way. This rule is especially true when you are riding the Tube, >aka London’s Underground.

5. France

Parisians are also not going to take lightly to improper escalator etiquette and often find themselves irritated with unknowing tourists. Faster moving Parisians go on the left, and slow moving/standing traffic sticks to the right. Also, be sure to be wary of your bags. Bulky luggage obstructing the left lane can be met with equal frustration of slow walkers.

6. New Zealand

It’s a bit of a free-for-all in this country. New Zealand doesn’t have as many escalators as others, so there aren’t as many rules for them. Conventional wisdom would have you standing on the right and walking on the left (just follow the rules of the road, people) and that will keep traffic moving. But, if you’re in a hurry, you might find yourself having to politely ask people to move over.

7. Canada

You’ve probably heard that Canadians are super polite, but, like the rest of the world, they still don’t want to run into you on the escalator. Stand right, walk left to get into the Canadian way of life! Once you’ve chosen your side of the escalator, stick with it because people generally don’t like it when you cut in.

8. Singapore

The fast-paced foot traffic of Singapore can be intimidating, but once you’re in the flow of it, you’ll easily get where you want to go. In this case, you stand left and walk right. Also, make sure you are leaving those who are walking enough room. If you’re in a couple, this means you might have to stand single file!


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