According to Durlauf and Blume (2010), a norm is defined on the basis of people’s interactions and appears to be a common belief about the appropriate human actions and behaviors. Norms are the rules established in the society that incorporate people’s actions and correspond to their expectations. In real life, the violation of social norms is increasingly wide spread. Still only the most essential and abundant norms are observed. I would say that being polite to people, which means greeting and gratitude, and leaving a tip for waiters and portieres are those that are still preserved on a regular basis.
What I was about to observe concerns the public transportation. I consider that public transport is the place where social norms and ethics should be kept, although one can face a lot of deviations from them even during a regular ride.
I took a bus on the end-station. The whole route was a quite long journey, supposedly up to an hour. However, I was not going to make it up to the end. It was around 8 pm on a weekday, so it was already getting dark. There were not many people in the bus as we started. More than a half of people and the bus driver were black; however there were some whites and Latinos. They all had a common feature – they all looked tired. Supposedly, they were returning back from work after having a hard day. Their appearance and clothes reminded of routine and probably even poverty. No one was wearing a suit and a tie – most of the people were casually dressed. There were no children or people of elderly age – most passengers were approximately between 20 and 40 years old. I would suggest that predominantly males were in the bus, although I paid attention to some women as well. They looked similar to the men in the bus. Almost all people rode alone and didn’t carry much with them. I felt not very comfortable among them especially in the evening hours.
For the first time, I was even thinking of postponing an observation or switching to another type of research. Anyway, they did not pay any special attention to me and I was travelling and surveying new people entering. An interesting point here is that almost no one went out of the bus in the first half an hour. I suggest they all lived in the distant locations.
In 20-25 minutes after we had started the journey, I decided to act. Usually you can check the route according to the map just in the bus, so you do not need to involve the surrounding people or the driver in order to clarify your final destination or the number of stops before it. I did the opposite. I came to the driver when we were in movement and pretended that it was the first time I used this bus. By that time, no one paid any attention to me or was willing to help me instead of the driver. When I asked about the directions, the driver kept silence for a while and then responded carelessly. I tried again and included some explanations in order to sound more obtrusive and lost. I was already standing on the yellow line, which limits the passenger zone when the transport moves. There were enough places for me to sit, but I continued talking to the driver.
The bus stopped at the station, some passengers left and we started again. The driver was getting angry with me and informed me that I am not allowed to cross the yellow line and I should better sit till we stop. I was not going to exaggerate with the experiment but gave it a try for the last time. I felt like the bus driver was angry enough but the passengers didn’t seem to be much interested in what was going on. However, those who sat in the front rows closer to the exit were a bit tense and nervous. I felt like they were about to comment on my behavior although no one did. I would say they were a bit irritated with my behavior but I suppose they didn’t want either to interact or to help me with my problem. Those who sat behind could only see me acting but not hear. They did not draw any attention to the case. I thanked the driver, sat back, rode some stations more and left the bus. When leaving, I said good bye to the driver and he mumbled me something back. He was definitely irritated with my behavior but he carried it off rather well.
This study clearly identifies the Social Distance concept introduced by Emory Bogardus (1926, pp. 40-46): people were not willing to participate in the occurrence for that it did not directly concern them. Role distance is also obvious in the given case (Cohen, 2004). The bus driver when performing his role tries to abstain from the needy person. According to Goffman (1959), the roles of the person driving a bus could extend also to the security inspector role or the role of assistant. The latter role could also be used by someone from the passengers; however, they expressed no involvement and gained no specific roles within the situation. What is relatively common about the people in the observance is their social class and status. Based on this, I would like to outline that their feedback and reactions were nearly the same – they all were reluctant. I observed no one with an achieved status reported by Henslin (2008, p. 101) – no one has played a new role on the basis of situation and take the initiative to discuss my problem or insist on leaving the driver alone. As Hebslin (2008, p. 100) points out, most of the people in similar situation would behave the same way because location affects human actions predominantly rather than their individual characteristics.
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