American culture is incubated and hatched in the cafeteria. Students go to the dining hall to get the food their bodies need for proper nourishment. But, food is by no means the only thing that students get at the cafeteria - they are also served with social interaction. The cafeteria is a place which some students love and which others dread. It is generally an integral part of children's social lives from elementary school all the way into college. Why is the cafeteria so important? Because, in the cafeteria, popularity is determined, friends are made, styles and fads are born, and the current news is broadcast. Our culture is defined and passed on over meals in the dining hall.
The cafeteria is not merely a place for small children; now that I am in college, I spend more time in the cafeteria than ever. Living in the dorms, I have no kitchen or any other place to cook. Instead, I have a meal plan that offers me fourteen meals each week at the Stanford/Hecht cafeteria. I eat lunch and dinner there as my two meals on most days. But, I do not and cannot go to the cafeteria and just get food. I get much more.
Going to eat generally begins with an invitation. Although it is acceptable to go down to the cafeteria alone occasionally, it is better to go with friends. Sometimes, a friend will stop by and invite me to go eat, other times I get hungry and go invite someone else. If everyone is busy or has already eaten, then I just go down to the dining hall by myself. But, I try not to let that happen often because it creates a boring meal and makes me look bad. If someone consistently dines alone, others will assume that he or she has no friends to eat with. So, two or three of us will usually go down to eat together.
We get to the outside of the cafeteria and wait in line for the lady to swipe our Cane Cards so we can eat. This line is the first stop on our journey. We look around to see who other people are eating with and what they are wearing. This is not a conscious action, but instead something that just happens. It sounds vain, but everyone does it whether they realize it or not. On a particular day, there might be students wearing anything from pajamas to formal clubbing clothes. The clothes that people wear generally tell a story about the person wearing them. Pajamas represent someone who just woke up. Clubbing clothes represent someone who is on stopping to eat before going out. Jeans or shorts with t-shirts represent someone during their normal routine of going to classes. In addition, the clothes we see show us what is in style and what is not. By observing what other people are wearing and how it looks on them, we can decide what to wear ourselves in the future.
While waiting in line to get in, the social interaction begins as well. As was mentioned before, we look around to see who is eating with who. Judgments of social status are made, both consciously and subconsciously. At the same time, we are looking around to see if...