Monday, July 25, 2011

Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner

What do you do when you are the first to enter a room that has a table in the corner for you and your friends to sit at?

If you are in North America, the polite thing is to file into the back corner, farthest from the door, so that those who come after you don't have to scurry past you to find a seat. Right? It would not only be inconvenient it would all seem rather rude, if you sat close to the door and forces others to squeeze into the corner.

If you are in Central Asia it is the exact opposite. The seat in the corner furthest from the door is the seat of honor. If you are the first person through the door and naturally assume you are worthy of sliding into the back seat, you seem presumptuous and proud. The proper response is to sit in the seat right by the door and let the older and more important guests struggle to climb over your legs and situate themselves in the back corner. It may seem inconvenient, but it reminds me of a story of parents often told:

"When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this man', and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. "But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher', then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you."

In the west taking the chair crowded in the back corner is the same as taking a low place. You may hear a friend say "oh don't sit there I can squeeze in instead" -- but in this culture that same back corner seat is the place of honor.

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