Most people do things automatically; they just subconsciously know what’s expected of them. Me . . . as a third culture kid (TCK), I’ve always had to pay conscious attention to to what these unspoken rules. It’s simply a matter of survival instinct for blending into the woodwork of totally new situations. The values placed on certain actions in one of my cultures might have the opposite effect in a different culture. Maybe that’s where my growing layman interest in sociology comes from. For me, sociology helps consciously unmask behaviors that everyone but me seems to take for granted.
A great example of this is Brad Wright’s post from last Friday: Where to sit in the classroom.
Obviously where to sit in classrooms is a relatively minor issue in the grand scheme of things. Still, it represents a highly structured social interaction, demonstrating the reach of social norms into every aspect of our lives.
Here are the rules:
1.) Sit next to a friend . . .
2) Figure out how close to the front of the room you like to be. If you’re right up front, you catch everything that is going on, but it does make it difficult to sleep, text message, or talk with your friends. If you want to goof around a bit, maybe sit in the back.
[I would add: decide what kind of person you want to be perceived to be by the rest of the class. Too far front – a nerd; too far back – not serious enough.]
3) Comfort & space
4) Keep an empty seat between you and others (unless you know them).
[If you get there early enough, who sits next to you will say something too]
5.) Sit in the same area each time.
How does this work in Kenya? My observation is that #4 is the opposite. People want to be together more. 5 is definitely true.
Wright concludes: “These seating rules are strong enough that they represent social norms, and it can be considered deviant to violate them.”
Now I know there was reason for my paranoia.