A Thought on Norms

So yesterday I was at my favorite cafe doing my thing: learning German, reading my book, and just people watching like the person.

I had to sit at the bar, which is a three-seat section near the barista station where all the drinks are distributed.  The cafe was somewhat crowded and I was forced to choose this area since all the areas were either barely filled by other people.

So I sat at the end of this row of three watching the baristas make and hand-out drinks.  I placed my bag on the chair next to me as I sat myself.  These were bar-stools: they were high enough that placing my bag on the floor would be cumbersome to get off the ground.  I thought to myself that this would not be an issue since if the cafe had become so full I would just place my bag on the floor to sit in the remaining two stools.

I watched for people in need of both chairs: a woman who sat while she waited for her drink at the end stool.  Another person hovered around the stool later but never sat.

Then a couple floated to the area with some food bought from the cafe and appeared to wait for their drink.  The woman of this couple sat in the stool at the end while a man hovered around while looking at his phone.  I tried to make eye contact with them, but I was confused whether they were going to stay or leave.  The woman was walking here and there, and the man just seemed like he didn’t know what she was going to do next.  The man’s body language was communicating to me that he was disaffected by the environment.

I ignored them momentarily.

After a minute or so, I looked up again to find that they were still there and the woman now sat in the chair.  The man not facing me or the woman not paying attention to my attempts at eye contact showed now that they were staying.  I looked at them again to see if I could get any communication on their intentions, but could not in the end.  Seeing that the effort was not worth anymore at this point than just placing my bag on the floor, I removed my bag from the stool and lowered it lightly to the floor to the corner next to me.

I went back to my task at hand.

Surprisingly, in the next moment I heard and saw the stool moving away from my side as I had kept it close since my bag had previously been keeping it.  The man pulled the chair and sat facing away from me toward his female companion.  His shoulders were a wide expanse like the Wall of Jericho while his head hunched down to his phone.  I heard murmurs from beyond the wall, but nothing toward me.  I was not at all within their thoughts.

I did not receive any gesture of acknowledgement of my actions.  Not that I wanted it, but regular politeness would have afforded me something.  I am not upset by this, but it got me wondering about these things of politeness and in other ways, moral obligation.  This is supposed to be upsetting to a degree, but in a way I feel that this all but common and useless to ponder.  Yet to some extent I feel that this could be how the real world and how to improve it.

How can we communicate when we cannot communicate?  It is a timeless conundrum, and I felt I did the best I could to create some trust.

I see it from this man and woman’s side of the equation where it was a public establishment and because there was an opportunity I should not be wasting them the opportunity to be seated.  On the other hand, from my point of view, I had allowed them opportunity with effort: I could have ignored them and just assumed they were intending on staying.

I felt like I knew that man (and woman) somehow in their thinking that perhaps there is a sense of entitlement.  There is some of them in me when I think about it, and despite whether I am right or wrong I would like to improve the world.


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