First semester freshman year, I lived the dream: no classes before 11:30, no classes on Friday and two classes a day Monday through Thursday with ample time between them to rollick in a luxurious, full-length meal before gaily traipsing to my second and final academic gathering of the day.
The following semester, karma and distributional requirements kicked in, and the schedule of joy, hope and wonder was no more. I discovered what misery I had been avoiding all this time, complete with lab and a 9:25 a.m. language section every single day. I decided that if I was going to get up so early anyway, I was going to do breakfast, and if I was going to do breakfast, I was going do it right and do it hot. And when I say hot breakfast, I mean Commons. While the hit-and-run breakfast is perfectly alright if it’s your style, I prefer to indulge in some me time over my waffle and yogurt. Now and again, however, I encounter obstacles.
The scenario: It is the dawn of a new day, and you are on your way to enjoy a quaint meal before embarking on the remainder of the day’s tasks. You walk up the steps to the rotunda, pull asunder the new doors that have somehow managed to become heavier and more difficult to open than they were before and promenade up the steps to Commons. The lull and bustle of the room invites you in, and you remove your outer garb and bookbag before heading over to the food area. When you return with your scrambled liquid eggs, corned beef hash, and Minute Maid orange juice from concentrate, you are mildly startled to find that an intruder has unknowingly placed his or her belongings within the bounds of your table sanctum.
Roughly a year ago, I stood at the aforementioned junction. I hesitated and eyed my intruder judiciously, ruminating, “What are you doing here? There’s no you shaped hole in my me time.”
As I do in many instances in which I am unsure of what to, I proceeded as if nothing was out of the ordinary. It was possible that the personal effects across from me were those of someone I knew who happened to recognize my jacket and bag and planned to sit with me, I thought — best to wait and see.
However, my initial theory was thoroughly extinguished in the proceeding 40 seconds. An unknown approached my table with a tray. I smiled and said “hello!” for lack of a better action. After a startled pause, she attempted to play it off as if situations like this were commonplace in her daily life. She sat down. I said nothing. She said nothing. We each took out books to look at, both too uncomfortable to actually absorb any of the words in front of us.
I usually don’t like being a quitter, but I gave in. I got up, gathered my things and moved to another table on the other side of Commons.
It shouldn’t have taken me so long to recognize what to do. There was no reason for me to wait around like I did, but I was but a freshman, unaccustomed to Commons culture. I realize now that the appropriate response in these instances is just to move. If you can do it before the person gets there, everyone survives unscathed. If they’ve arrived already, it’s all good. Go for it. All it takes is a couple seats and a couple seconds.
All it takes is practice to get to know the various mutual understandings that exist in Commons culture, and most of them are common sense. My combined affinity for hot breakfast and the delightful denizens of Jonathan Edwards College who dine in the back area of Commons draws me to the oak-paneled walls of what used to be the largest university dining hall. As such, I spend a good deal of quality time there. Here’s a couple etiquette tips I’ve picked up along the way.
For starters, the panini press makes a “the-line-for-hot-food-is-too-long-so-I’ll-just-make-a-sandwich” day into a “cheese-is-so-awesome-when-it’s-melted” day. If someone’s sandwich is already in the press, and yours is considerably larger to the point that placing it in the press will prevent the other individual’s sandwich from being pressed, it’s best to wait. We like courtesy in Commons. The press is a privilege, not a right.
Next, let’s level about the toaster — another fantastic invention of man — made more important by the newly acquired presence of cinnamon sugar in the dining hall.
Parenthetically, I prefer a 9-8-60 setting to achieve the perfect level of crisp and color. However, a toaster setting is a personal preference, dependent on taste, function and the availability of time; they require forethought and have purpose. In this way, if someone else’s carbohydrate is in the toaster, and you would prefer to use a different setting, best to wait your turn. By altering the speed or heat level, you could be making or breaking someone’s day.
These are but two examples in a sea of like situations. Come by the JE section during lunch if you’d like to discuss them further.
Remember, learning Commons culture is just a matter of experience and proper reasoning. If you don’t get it the first time, it’s OK. We’ve all been there. In Commons, we understand.