There is no official guide that tells you how to behave in a restaurant. Nevertheless, you and everyone else usually stick to a certain sequence of (inter-)actions: You take a seat, wait for the waitress, look at the menu, give an order, eat, small talk about not-too-personal subjects, pay and leave. This sequence is internalized to an extent that we think of it as natural, but it is nothing more than conventionalized. This becomes obvious when we think about alternatives to conventional behaviours. To exemplify this, here are some actions that would seem unconventional in a restaurant:

  • Join a group of strangers at another table.
  • When you have to wait too long for your food, go into the kitchen and inquire on its whereabouts.
  • Bring a fish to the restaurant and ask them to prepare it for you.
  • Invite the waitress/cook to your home in exchange for their service.

All of those actions seem unconventional because they go against the unspoken protocol of “How to eat at a restaurant”. Everyone seems to know how it works. Most people are assuming that you know of them and are expecting you to behave accordingly.

Here is another example of a protocol:

Think of a privately hosted dinner, that you host at home: you invite a couple of friends or family to your home, you organize or cook food, guests may bring presents or gifts if there is a celebration to be held – or as an expression of gratitude for your hosting. You eat together around a table, chat politely, comment on the delicious food, and so on. Although dinners usually are outside of our everyday routine they still feel routinized to some extent. You just know how dinners work – no need to explain every detail of them (e.g. that we will sit around a table and eat).

We can describe more protocols for other situations. In fact, most of our everyday life follows certain protocols. They are the fundamental basis that constitutes our culture. They are the reason we experience something as the culture shock when going to another country, because we don’t know how those protocols work. We can fall back on them when we are unsure in social situations, they make our life easier.

But at the same time, they make our life predictable and boring. We cannot expect to experience – nor learn – anything new when we all repeat the same actions and knowledge over and over again.

What if we apply the same experimental creativity to our actions that we usually apply to art pieces? What if we propose variations on existing protocols (a variation of a dinner-party e.g.) or develop  new protocols that we can implement into our life on a regular basis?  If we  start questioning these internalized rules and patterns, will we discover better alternatives to how to act in everyday life? How much does it take to change the cultural norm?

The suggested Cultural Protocols questions our basic cultural behaviours and as such they propose alternatives on how to live our life. Ultimately changing the cultural norm of how we experience each other and ourselves.

All of those options aim to motivate interested people in taking up whichever cultural protocol they want to implement into their everyday life (maybe even on a regular basis).


co-initiated with: Nina Lund Westerdahl

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