Saturday, October 15, 2011

Social Norms

I have been wracking my brain about what could I do to "break the norms" so I could share the exciting experience with my classmates. Actually I've been wondering about what makes norms, norms, more than anything, so I could break them.  I find New Yorkers pretty relax when it comes to "do's and don'ts" so that has not helped.

In any case, last week while on my way to class, a school professor was in front of me pushing a cart full of art supplies. You may call it "being a good Samaritan" or just "Proactive Behavior", but I walked up in front of her to hold the doors. Simple. I was not even thinking about until she gave me that astounded look! Had I just broken a norm? She not only looked quite surprised but with a big grateful smile she soundly thanked me and told me that this NEVER happens "here". Was I breaking an FIT social norm?! a student norm? (or a "too cool to be nice" norm?)

with my mom, sister and cousin
I think we all get the point. Norms are different in every places, cultures... They are unwritten rules that go beyond "The French kiss on the cheeks while Americans give a hug..."

I actually have a tendency to break a New York social rule on a regular basis: I like chatting with people I don't know. I talk to strangers on the subway, at the cashier line, just walking down the street, I talk to the dogs too but that’s another story.  When I met my husband he thought that was a little quirky. He was not sure if he liked all the attention we were getting here because of my "Chatty Cathy" habit. But he quickly learned that it could be quite entertaining. While some people get a little nervous, most get into the conversation. For me it's just a way to make everyday life more fun.

To be frank, I got this from my mother. I was not always like this. As kids, my sister and I would get so embarrassed when she would start chatting people up. But as I grew older I started appreciating this side of her. I realized this is what makes her so great, bubbly and fun to be around. That's also why she has this incredible ability to make friends anywhere she goes and  in record time.  And I got that from her as well!


  1. WOW, that is so interesting. i actually get little nervous when people start randomly talking to me on the street. I don't know why. Lately i have been more open to it but I don't chat with people on the street. I don't know why, its not me. I am more reserved most of the time. I watch people a lot and see what they are doing, but I never ask them why are they doing this.Maybe i should next time, ask them.

  2. It's very interesting, because generally-speaking you would think that the ability to chat strangers up would put people at ease more than having them put their guard up. I think it has something to do with this being NYC - if you went somewhere like Minneapolis, for instance, I don't think anyone would be particularly shocked if you started talking to them randomly.

    I'm always pleasantly surprised when someone starts talking to me on the street or in line or wherever, though it usually seems that they require directions. I find it's often the elderly who like to chat, though certainly not exclusively. I'm always happy to yammer - maybe it's the Midwesterner in me?

    And funny how we end up engaging in the same behaviors of our parents that mortified us as children. So true! Thanks for sharing~

  3. I would love people to help me with my cart at school! You would not believe how many just let the door go, or walk up to me in the other direction, waiting for me to move...or sprint to close the elevator door so I do not join them.
    So sad :(
    You are a kind person, and this is not the only proof of that!