April 18, 2013

Social Interactions

Todd sBy Todd Schoepflin

There I was, sitting on a bar stool, having a beer and shooting the breeze with my brother-in-law Jim, and watching people bowl together. I don’t get out much, so it was eventful just to hang out at a bowling alley for a few hours. But a surprising interaction occurred that night. A woman, who appeared to be drunk, touched my face as she walked by me and said something about my eyes that I think was intended as a compliment.

I was confused. We have norms about violating personal space. If a sociology referee had been witness to this interaction, the referee likely would have thrown a flag and penalized the woman for touching my face. The picture illustrates the way she touched me (it’s not a photograph of the Hand_on_faceactual moment). Although it was weird for a stranger to touch my face, it didn’t bother me very much. I am still trying to sort out why. To experience the interaction only as a minor act of rudeness: is this my male privilege at work? In contrast, how does it feel to a woman when she is touched by a man in public space? What does it mean to her? I pose that question with the bigger picture of sexism in mind and with recognition that experiences of harassment and sexual assault are common for women.

A month later, I went to a bar with my wife, Tina, to visit friends. As we walked from the parking lot to the entrance, we saw a man gesturing wildly and screaming about a cab that supposedly deserted him. I did my best to define the situation—“What the hell is going on here?” is all I could think—and wondered if trouble was brewing. It was only 7:00 in the evening, a time when I generally do not expect shenanigans. But when a person is inebriated, the time of day doesn’t matter. When people are drunk, stuff happens.

The guy made his way back into the bar as Tina and I trailed behind. We walked slowly so we wouldn’t cross his path. We found our friends at the bar. As bad luck would have it, the wild man was standing next to our friends. He calmly ordered another drink and explained to a bartender that he missed his cab. Suddenly this guy was relatively composed. So what in the world happened outside a few minutes before? Was it some kind of a show? I don’t know, but I do know his motor skills were compromised. When he left the bar a few minutes later, he knocked over a drink that made a huge mess in front of another guy at the bar. Some of the beer spilled on the man who was minding his own business. I zeroed in on the man’s reaction. He was cool, and let it go. He kept his emotions in check. I should have thanked him for doing his part to maintain order. One wonders how many bar fights are avoided when customers like him keep calm and carry on.

Well, I don’t spend all my free time in a bar. I only make it out about once a month for a few cold ones. I spend much more of my life at grocery stores. The interaction I mention next took place in the café section of a supermarket (all the interactions I describe in this piece occurred within the last six weeks). I got in line behind a few folks and waited my turn to order a coffee and bagel. The people ahead of me in line were all store employees. Another employee showed up and cut in front of me. I am small, but she had to have seen me. True, human beings are imperfect and perhaps prone to being oblivious, but “C’mon, for real, did you just cut in front of me?” I said no such thing out loud. Although getting cut offends my sensibilities and departs from proper etiquette, it’s something I can live with, especially when I’m not in a hurry. The woman took forever to purchase her coffee and continued to occupy counter space while putting a lid on her cup. I fidgeted and impatiently waited to be acknowledged by the person behind the counter.

Finally, I got a chance to place my order. Before I could pay, another employee jumped in and told his co-worker not to charge me. It turns out he saw what transpired. He noticed I had been cut, commented that it was rude, and praised me for not drawing attention to the situation. It was nice to be recognized in such a way. It was a form of respect, and it felt good. I wonder, was this simply an odd incident, a one in a thousand event? Or was it something about me—a white person dressed in a way that suggests being middle-class—that impacted the outcome? Had I experienced white privilege and/or class privilege?

Later that morning, I tweeted about what happened and mentioned the name of the store in my tweet. I quickly got a reply from the grocery store’s Twitter account—whoever wrote the message apologized, requested the store location, and asked if I caught the employee’s name. I didn’t reply. Not knowing how specific information would have been used, I wasn’t comfortable providing answers.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who reflects on encounters and interactions. What are some recent interactions that stand out to you? Why do you consider them remarkable? Can you contemplate them from a sociological perspective?

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Comments

Thanks for sharing!

Hey Todd,

I go out and film videos of my social interactions on a regular basis and I've found out quite a few things from engaging with people.

I've discovered that if I'm mindful of the other person I'm talking to, I'm more aware of their body language, how they feel, and how I'm relating to them.

When I first got started interacting with people, I was very bad at paying attention to how uncomfortable they felt around me. Even for myself I noticed that I would avoid eye contact, have shifty eyes, talk too fast and too much, and more.

Since then I've learned to be more grounded in my own body/energy therefore becoming calm, relaxed, comfortable to be around and more thoughtful/aware and empathetic.

Cheers,

ZADE

its helpfull

great information

great blog, thanks for sharing...

awesome...

Social interaction right now is very important, note it!

Thank you :)

great,

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