Social Norms in Different Cultures

Categories: Social Norms

Members of our society break the rules everyday; not always are they at fault with the law but, sometimes other societal members will give them negative reactions for breaking everyday social norms. A social norm is a way our society expects you to act. For example you’re expected to hold the door for someone if they’re directly behind you, you won’t get arrested if you don’t hold the door but, you will receive a negative sanction for not doing so.

A negative sanction is society's way of giving an unofficial punishment. A negative sanction can be as nonchalant as an eye roll and as massive as boycott. Society also has positive sanctions, for example doing something good or following the unofficial rules of society allow for a metaphorical pat on the back. For example a positive sanction could be any of the following: a parent giving their child $10 dollars for getting all A’s on their report card, or a child has perfect attendance so they receive a perfect attendance certificate with a free meal to their favorite restaurant.

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Different social norms depend on your culture. A culture is the way your society defines itself. You define yourself by your beliefs, behaviors, and other common actions you have with members in your society. Some cultures may have different social norms and or unofficial rules than the culture you reside in. When visiting other cultures you need to be aware of social norms because they change throughout cultures.

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For example: some cultures are more male dominant than others. Your culture may allow female doctors, politicians, teachers, etc while another culture may be more male dominant and have look at women as more of a second class member of society than a man. When you go from one culture to another you may be more prone to breaking formal norms which are the real written laws on that society. You will be ticketed or arrested for breaking a formal norm.

An informal norm for example is a rule used somewhere typically like a workplace or school. If you break an informal norm you may be fired from work and or put on unpaid leave, or if in a school setting expelled assigned detention and or suspended. Usually when breaking a formal or informal norm you are labeled as deviant. Without norms our society wouldn’t be structured the same. We need norms in order for our society to function as a whole or as a sociologist would refer to as on the macro level. Without norms crime levels and mannerisms would be completely out of control. Not only would our society have members just being plain rude to each other you may also have people committing crimes as unethical as murder, theft, and drug use more frequently.

Deviance is a society is similar to being deviant. For example being deviant in a society is to break one of the unofficial and official rules or formal and informal norms. Deviance allows for others in society to learn from others mistakes and for some they conform to society's social standards.To conform is to believe and act because of a society's influence on you. Someone who conforms isn’t going to take risks to be different or to stand out in society with a different belief or behavior because of the influence society has made on them. An example of conforming would be if someone dreamt of being an actor but, society says that isn’t a real job so they go to college to get a “real job.”

You can easily be influenced by society and others may influence you by impression management. Impression management is when someone influences you by their own beliefs and behaviors or their own impression of themselves on someone else. An example of this would be acting a different way in front of your significant other's family and not being yourself because of the impression you want to leave on them. Or taking extra time to get ready for a job interview and covering up tattoos before you go could be considered impression management. All of which can be done during socialization. Socialization is exactly what you think it is; talking about your beliefs and behaviors with other members of society!

I conducted a norm breach where I whispered to my family during a family birthday dinner on September 26, 2018 at Olive Garden. My plan of action was to whisper from the beginning of the dinner till the end and see what reactions all 8 of my family members would give me. As we sat down at the dinner table I whispered to my sister “Can I please sit by Laine?” ( Laine is my 3 year old nephew) She looked at me and said “ Yes you weirdo.” I assume she thought I was just trying to be funny. I sat there quietly and looked over the menu I whispered to my mom “ What are you going to ge?” She looked at me with a puzzling look and replied “What?” Trying to keep a straight face I repeated myself. She then said “Why are you whispering? I can barely hear you” I just kept whispering and said “I’m sorry” in a small soft tone. She started to laugh and said “You’re still doing it, why are you whispering?” I didn’t know what to say or do, I just kept whispering and saying that I didn’t mean to.

My mom tried to get me to even drink a water to ‘clear my throat.’ As the night went on my nephew started to whisper with me as well. (As I stated he’s three, of course he copied me.) My sister started to laugh as me and her son whispered. My step dad didn’t seem to think much of me whispering. My brother Matt asked me “What did you just say? You talking about me?” Assuming I was gossiping about him. My brother Ryan laughed at me once or twice, that was the only reaction I got out of him. Once our food got to the table I talked in at a normal volume once again, no one mentioned the whispering and once we got home I informed my family of my project and why I was whispering. They all laughed. My sister told me she “Thought I was just trying to be funny.”

Usually when you’re speaking with someone inside everyone use the same level of loudness when speaking to each other, our culture refers to this norm as an “inside voice”. This norm helps keep order in society by making sure no one is screaming and or whispering inside a restaurant at each other when they could be using an inside voice at the appropriate level of loudness. I believe that my age and my relationship with my family impacted their responses to me. They know me well and I’m still younger they assumed I was just playing a joke on them or trying to mess with my nephew in a joking manner. I think if I would have whispered to others that weren’t as close to me and or, didn’t know me all that well they would have given me more of a reaction and or asked me why I was whispering. Globally speaking other cultures consider whispering rude because it can make people suspicious of what you’re whispering about and or if you’re whispering about them.

Whispering can also be considered rude/mean if you’re excluding someone else from a conversation right in front of them. Some even say whispering at work is unprofessional. Speaking in a low tone is only appropriate in some situations. A norm in the United States that is foreign to others is the fact that we have laws in place for drinking and that you cannot consume alcohol until you are at least 21 years of age, whilst in other countries they can consume and buy alcohol at 18 and even 16 in some countries like Austria and Germany. Some countries only allow beer and wine at 18, the United States prohibits drinking until 21 under all circumstances. As I violated my norm I felt a sense of nervousness, I didn’t wanna give myself away and wanted to try and violate the norm for as long as possible so I could watch their reactions and get the best idea of what their reactions were.

It was difficult to break the norm because I wanted to laugh and just tell them I was doing an experiment for class but, I also wanted enough data for my paper. It was hard to keep whispering I started to feel slightly embarrassed. A social norm I’ve broken is using my phone in inappropriate times (like while at work). Another social norm I’ve broken is swearing in public, every now and then a swear word slips. It’s still considered a violation though. This experiment shed light on the power norms for me because it showed me how many norms I follow every day. Especially being a server I earn tips off of following norms and being polite. Saying ‘thank you, you’re welcome, and I’m sorry’ really go a long way with how you come off as a person.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Social Norms in Different Cultures. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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