Violating Social Norms
The norm violation I chose for this assignment was talking to myself in public. Everyone believes that talking to oneself especially in public is a sign of a mental disorder or insanity. To everyone else, it seems that the person talking to himself is actually conversing with the voices in his head. Society views people who talk to themselves as schizophrenic, or people with multiple personalities’ disorder.
I chose a local restaurant in the town that is always full of people streaming in and out during the evening. I chose to carry out the experiment on Saturday 31 October 2015 because it was the last Saturday of the month and there would be many families and couples in the restaurant enjoying a nice meal out. To make the experiment even more effective, I insisted that I should sit on the table that is in the middle of the room. Here, everyone from all around the restaurant could clearly see me violating the social norm. Once sitted, I began having a chat with myself while I waited to be served.
It seemed like I was basically conversing with another person. I asked myself how my day was and I aptly answered giving details on my lectures, the things I had learned that day as well as the disturbing stain on my sneaker that could not get off. I explained to myself how the stain was really affecting my self-esteem because I thought now everybody was staring at my dirty sneaker.
Before long, I realized that people were shooting glances at me from every direction. Some people were even sneering as they walked past me to their tables. The waiter came to my table, quicker than usual, and asked for my order. I asked for a plate of pasta but after consulting with myself audibly, I changed my order to a plate of fries and a milkshake. I quickly commented to the imaginary person I was talking to that that was an unhealthy choice but we would consume it for the sake of time. One look at the waiter and I could tell that he was completely shocked and frazzled by my actions.
He instructed me to go to another table near the window, far from the full glare of the rest of the diners in the restaurant. I cordially refused citing that my ‘friend’ and I were perfectly comfortable with our current sitting arrangement. I went on to tell him that my ‘friend’ really loved the ambience at the center of the room. He then tried to convince me that I should take the meal home instead of eating at the restaurant because the restaurant was about to close. I quickly refused this recommendation citing that official restaurant closing hours were more than two hours away. Besides, my ‘friend’ and I were fast eaters and would be out of his hair in no time.
All throughout the meal, I spoke to my imaginary friend, even offering him a chip or two to which he politely declined. Breaching the norm was kind of uncomfortable and exhilarating at the same time. I felt very uncomfortable carrying out the experiment because I am not used to the kind of attention I was receiving from the management of the restaurant as well as the other diners. The restaurant was packed with people of all ages and they all could not stop staring at me in between bites of their supper. A small girl even came up to my table and asked if I was mad because that is what her father had called me when I first sat down and began talking to myself. A teenage couple took out a smartphone and began to video record me as I was eating and talking to my ‘friend’. I am sure that video is on You-Tube somewhere by now.
After my meal, I motioned for the waiter to come and receive the payment for the meal. He was a bit apprehensive as he approached my table. I had noticed him gossiping to his workmates earlier about me and constantly pointing to my direction. As I gave him the money, I asked if he thought I was crazy. He only responded with a grunt. I went on to debrief him about my social experiment to which he breathed a sigh of relief. “So you are not a crazy hobo?” he asked to which I aptly shook my head. I asked him how he felt about having to serve a person who was talking to himself. He explained that he was ‘freaked out’ by the whole experience. He had tried to explain the situation by telling his boss that maybe I was just having a hard day or I was going through some emotional trauma. He also suggested to his workmates that maybe I had missed my dose for the day and that was why I was acting so weird.
One major implication of carrying out this social experiment is that it allows one to see how the society values its norms even when these so-called norms are irrational. It is a scientific fact that talking to oneself is completely healthy and beneficial to one’s brain development. Children talk to themselves all the time and this is how they learn to solve the problems they encounter while in school or when playing. For instance, it is common for a child to repeat constantly to himself audibly how to tie a shoelace or a tie and this is how he finally masters the art.