Social norms, or mores, are the unwritten rules of behavior that are considered acceptable in a group or society. Norms function to provide order and predictability in society. On the whole, people want approval, they want to belong, and those who do not follow the norms will suffer disapproval or may even be outcast from the group. This is how we keep society functioning, not just with direct rules but also expectations. When people know what is expected of them they tend to comply. While some people seek to be different, most just want to be part of the group.
Norms can change according to the environment, situation, and culture in which they are found, and people's behavior will also change accordingly. Social norms may also change or be modified over time.
To make a good impression on other members of your community there are social norms that are commonly accepted, such as:
- Shake hands when you meet someone.
- Make direct eye contact with the person you are speaking with.
- Unless the movie theater is crowded, do not sit right next to someone.
- Do not stand close enough to a stranger to touch arms or hips. Don't invade someone's personal space.
- Do not curse in polite conversation and always avoid racist or discriminatory comments.
- Do not pick your nose in public and if you must burp or fart say "excuse me."
- Be kind to the elderly, like opening a door or giving up your seat.
- If there is a line, go to the back of the line instead of pushing or cutting your way to the front.
- If you hit or bump into someone by accident, say "I'm sorry."
- If someone sneezes near you, say "bless you."
- When at someone else's home, ask permission to do things such as turning on the television or using the bathroom.
- Flush the toilet after use and always wash your hands when finished.
- Say "please" when asking for something and say "thank you" when someone does something for you.
- Call to let someone know you will be late or are not going to show up for an appointment.
- Dress appropriately for the environment you are in.
- Don't interrupt someone while they are talking. Wait for them to finish and then take your turn.
Being on a phone, especially a smartphone, is something we all do now throughout the day. The following are examples of social norms when using a phone.
- Say hello when answering and goodbye before you hang up.
- Don't take a phone call during dinner, either in public or at home.
- Put your phone on silent if you are in a meeting, at church, in a theater or in a public setting where phones are not to be used.
- Do not lie or hang up if someone has the wrong number. Inform them of their mistake.
- Don't text while on a date or engaged in a conversation with another person.
When dining out at a restaurant there are social norms that are commonly expected from the diner. These include:
- Leave a tip for the waiter or waitress. The tip should be at least 15% of the bill.
- Chew with your mouth closed and avoid making loud sounds while chewing.
- Do not talk with food in your mouth.
- Dress according to the restaurant's dress code.
- Do not eat soup with a fork.
- Do not belch loudly at the table.
- Do not eat sloppily or quickly or use your hands unless it is finger food.
- Do not eat off another person's plate without asking.
- Always thank your server.
- Do not be loud or vulgar or disturb other diners.
Whether you realize it or not, there are even norms that apply to riding on an elevator. These norms are expected and mostly common sense. Examples include:
- Acknowledge others in the elevator with a simple nod or say hi.
- Stand facing the front. Do not turn around and face other passengers.
- Never push extra buttons, only the one for your floor.
- Never stand right by someone if you are the only two people on board. You do not want to make anyone feel as if you are invading their space.
- Do not act obnoxiously on the elevator.
- Do not say "I'll wait for the next one" if only one person is on board.
Students learn from an early age that there are certain norms to follow while in class or at school. Some examples include:
- Do not use a cellphone during class. Texting and making calls are not appropriate in class time.
- Ask the teacher if you can be excused during class to use the restroom. Never just get up and leave.
- Do not listen to music with headphones.
- Do not sit in other people's assigned chairs.
- Come to class prepared with book, paper, pen, etc.
- Never read other material during class.
- Stand up to bullies and do not allow others to be bullied.
- Do not be rude to teachers or your classmates.
- Arrive to class on time.
In the professional world, there are social norms to follow to make the workplace function smoothly. These include the following:
- Dress neatly and appropriately for the job.
- Be on time and follow the schedule that you are given.
- Keep a positive attitude and do not engage in gossip.
- Be professional and contribute your skills as needed.
- Notify supervisors if you are sick and unable to make work.
- If you need to leave early, notify your boss and make proper arrangements.
- Be respectful of your coworkers.
There are certain norms expected for each gender that have existed for a long time. While these are examples of norms that have changed over time and are still changing, they still persist in many communities. Many of the gender norms are stereotypes and can be considered discriminatory. Some examples of gender-specific norms include the following:
- Girls wear pink; boys wear blue.
- Men should be strong and not show emotion.
- Women should be caring and nurturing.
- Men should do repairs at the house and be the one to work and make money while women are expected to take care of the housework and children.
- A man should pay for the woman's meal when going out to dinner.
Keep in mind that these examples are social norms in western society. Social norms vary between countries and from social class to social class and from social group to social group. Each group can share many of the same social norms; and, the group may have a few special norms. As you move from country to country and group to group it is up to you to know, and implement, the appropriate social norms. Continue your societal exploration with a look at what a social construct is.