Observation

Observation is perhaps one of the most useful abilities that humans possess, an ability that allows us to view our surroundings to a comprehensive level. Through this skill, we are able to observe human behaviors and more importantly human cultures. Cultural Anthropologists strive to find connections between these behaviors and culture, and how they relate to each other. This process is known as participant observation, and I took this idea and used it within my own community to better understand the various types of cultural norms that occur around me. I decided that the type of environment that I would study should be a place that many demographics visit, and relates them all through certain activities or processes, and through that filtration, I came up with McDonald’s. This restaurant is known for its low pricing and attracts customers of all socioeconomic classes: the upper, the middle class, and the lower. I sat inside the restaurant during a peak hour of lunch (Between 12 PM – 2 PM) and recorded various things that I noticed about our habits and culture. To better participate in this, I also decided to eat lunch and found that I also participated in some cultural styles. Within this report I will discuss a couple of key points that I observed, these being: spacing between individuals, the speed of orders and expectations, and the interactions between customers. First, I will discuss the amount of space that customers would stand away from each other. This was particularly interesting as it somewhat varied depending on if it was an individual or a group of people. Most people when standing in line would give quite a lot of space between them and the people around them, almost as a personal space zone. If I had to estimate, I would say this space reached at least two arms lengths between both people. This occurred in the entire process of ordering their meal, getting drinks, sitting down, etc. Yet, there were some groups that came in that I can only assume know each other at a personal level or familial level, and it was the exact opposite. They had little to no space, and even at times would bump into one another. In American culture, space is an important factor and when this cultural norm is violated we feel awkward and typically uncomfortable. So, to observe that there was more than one norm regarding space means that American culture is made up of many smaller cultural values. Secondly, I think it’s important to mention the expectations of speed in the order taking process and food creation. McDonald’s is known as fast food, which is already a pretty Americanized industry, that values speed over quality. I noticed that when taking orders, employees tried to minimize the amount of time needed to take them and to an extent would even get irritated if the customers would take too long. Ironically, this is the opposite after the order has been taken and customers were known to get agitated if their order took too long to be produced. Some individuals would just stand and wait patiently, some would tap their feet, some would vocally complain as if it would increase the speed of the process. I think this is insightful of just how much our expectations of instant gratification reach within our culture. To the point that when we aren’t satisfied with a certain speed, it makes us angry and belligerent. Lastly, I noticed that customers interactions varied. Most individuals would just stay on their phones and wouldn’t speak to anyone, creating a lack of communication. This is something that we’ve come to accept within our culture, and while it may seem rude to some cultures, it didn’t faze anyone in ours. But while that was the most common observation I had, I did notice that – once again – groups broke this norm to an extent. Many people would come to meet for lunch, or discuss business matters, with the use of technology during their conversations. For example, there were two individuals meeting regarding a business investment, and instead of ordering food they spoke about the considerations of said investment (but they may have gotten food later). There were some people talking on the phone, and their interactions were occurring with another person in a different place. I think this puts emphasis on three things within our culture: individualism, industry, and technology. We are more likely to value these three components over traditional communication in American culture. In conclusion, through my cultural observations I made some important discoveries regarding my own culture and now I better understand why certain normative things occur. In the past, I didn’t connect some of these things to culture and just assumed that people were just being rude and now I understand it is the values within our culture that decide what is acceptable and what isn’t. Individualism was one of the biggest aspects that I pinpointed through all of my observations, and it seems to influence nearly aspect of our culture. I also noticed that we greatly put emphasis on spacing, speed, and technology. We expect our personal space, instant gratification, and we connect it through technology. Gender and ethnicity didn’t seem to have an impact on these observations, and all groups seemed to have similar interactions in this environment. Overall, I think this observation was important and gave me a new outlook on the things that I once took for granted.

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