Social norms are unwritten laws that guide people on how to behave in a given social group. For example, children are known to have imaginary friends to talk to, play with, or share their secrets, but they usually grow out from that stage. However, it is abnormal for adults to act the same, especially in public. This is because society believes something is wrong with individuals who talk to themselves or imaginary beings. People often feel their views or opinions about individuals with imaginary friends are warranted. This is because persons who publicly display behavior suggesting having imaginary friends are perceived to be psychologically sick or drug addicts (Juergens, 2021). However, in this context, substance abusers who talk to their imaginary associates in public are more likely to be seen as somehow deviating from norms, unlike mentally ill people who have no control over their actions. Therefore, my experiment of breaking the norms involves going to a restaurant and pretending to converse with an imaginary colleague because this may be challenging for others to understand.
The norm-breaking occurred when my friend and I went to a restaurant and pretended to talk to our imaginary colleague. It was past lunchtime when we arrived at the eatery; the waiter pointed us to a table for two. But I stopped, and I told the hostess, “But we need a table for three, please.” We were immediately directed to a relatively secluded eating area at the end of the room since other tables were already occupied. I pulled a seat out for my imaginary colleague, and the hostess drew a chair for my friend while trying to hide slightly perplexed and judgmental facial expressions. She placed only two menus in front of us, and I said, “That is alright; there is no need to bring another menu we can share.” I was pretending to peruse the menu with our imaginary colleagues when the waitress approached and asked if we were ready to order.
After taking our orders, the hostess was still unaware of the situation and was about to leave, but I signaled her and said, “Wait, our colleague would like to order as well”, while pointing at an empty chair across the table. The hostess looked more confused and offended, but then anxiously smiled but suggested writing that down and coming back later when our colleague arrived to take their order. She assumed it was an actual person who probably was running late. I said, “What are you talking about; he is right there, can’t you see? However, after sensing I was serious, she reluctantly served three meals. Later I asked her for a doggie bag for food that our imaginary colleague did not finish eating.
People have been socialized to only talk to those physically present in public places. Perfectly functioning adults do not talk to imaginary beings because it is regarded as an odd thing. Therefore, it is unusual to converse with an imaginary person and even order food for them unless they are there. This is also necessary for food safety and to ensure that items in the menu are served in the condition in which they are delivered from the kitchen. Therefore, it is a norm for customers to tell waitresses what they would like to eat and make sure that they have written down the correct details so that they do not end up being served dishes they have not ordered.
Talking to an imaginary colleague and even ordering food for him deviates from the norms. Therefore, despite the experience being fun, it was also uncomfortable and awkward. Without social control, confusion reigns because society teaches people how to think and behave in acceptable ways. This implies that people must conform to the values and norms of society. Based on sociologists’ studies, when individuals fail to meet established social expectations, they face correction and rejection (Durkheim, 1895). This may take various forms, such as disapproving looks and even ostracization, because people often get uncomfortable with certain behaviors.
Durkheim, E. (1895). The rules of sociological method: And selected texts on sociology and its method. Free Press.
Juergens, J. (2021). Schizophrenia and addiction. Addition Center.