Author Archives: vickyvs

Negotiating Public Space

There are many public locations where thousands of people pass by or go in every day. I always pass by these places, such as parks, restaurants, subways, and sidewalks, however, I never stopped to observe how people interact with each other or with the public space. This assignment interests me because it allows me to look at something so normal to me, in a new perspective. I decided to observe the subway, because I take it almost every week, and never payed attention to the social norms that are present. As you know, there are many people in the subway in New York, at any time of the day. Therefore, it made it a little difficult to focus on one specific person, but rather I focused on different people and how they acted and presented themselves.

In the subway, there are many social norms that are not legally listed, but people are aware of them. For example, when walking into the subway, you should always wait for people to get out before you go in. On the stops before going into the city, I observed that people did this, and it worked out well. However, on the stops in the city, people began to get more chaotic. They all rushed in at the same time, and did not care if people had to get out. I believe this is due to the difference in environments and population. In the stops before the city, there were not as many people, and the environment was more calm and organized. In the city stops, there were ten times more people, and many were rushing to get home from work, so they did not consider anyone else besides themselves. I found this interesting because it is a social norm that is supposed to be followed by everyone, but apparently depends on the location.

Furthermore, another social norm that was created in the subway system is to only take up one seat on the benches. This is not legally required, but everyone does it out of respect. I observed many people walking in, and when the benches were empty they would spread their legs out and often take up two seats. However, once they see the train start to get packed, they move over and allow more people to sit down. This is a kind gesture made by many, because I know that many people can not be squished between two people. However, in such a crowded city, there is only so much room for everyone in the subway, so we sometimes have to make sacrifices.

Another social norm that has been around for a while is giving up your seat for either a pregnant woman or an elder. While many people negotiate this social norm, there are others who completely ignore it. I observed many younger students, probably from ages 16-23, get up for elderly people and pregnant woman. However, I also saw a couple of people, ages 30-45, pretend that they are not paying attention and ignore the elder or pregnant woman. I find this very disrespectful, and although it is not a law to give up your seat, people do it out of respect and kindness.

I take the subway very often in my life, and have never noticed how some people negotiate to these social norms, while others reject them. It was very interesting to observe a place so familiar to me in a new way, focusing on the people and their actions rather than thinking about the place I need to get to. This assignment made me realize that there are many social norms that are not written down anywhere, but have just been created over time. It is interesting to see how the people who follow these norms assimilate to the environment and are viewed as “normal” and “kind”, while those who contest them are viewed as “weird” and “disrespectful”.


Encountering Strangers

New York is a big city filled with thousands of people; people with different cultures, ethnicities, lifestyles, economic levels, etc. Therefore, most people in New York are strangers to each other, while some are open to meeting new people, and others are concerned in their own lives. First hearing about this project, I knew it would be difficult to hold a conversation with a stranger in New York, because most of them try to avoid small talk with a person they never met. I know this from experience, because I witness it on the train, and in stores around my neighborhood. People in New York have a tunnel vision when they walk, being only concerned about where they have to be at that moment. Taking this into account, I focused on interviewing strangers around my neighborhood who stopped at our local Deli, because I knew they would be a lot more friendly then people on the subway or in the city.

The first stranger I encountered was walking into the deli in my neighborhood. She was a lean, white, middle-aged woman who seemed to be taking her time walking into the store. She was walking her dog, and stopped to tie the leash around a pole. I did not want to start the conversation in an awkward way, so I thought talking about her dog was a perfect ice-breaker. I asked her questions about what kind of dog it was, when she got it, how old it is, and how she ended up getting a dog. She was a very nice woman, who took her time to answer my questions, and did not seem like she was in a hurry. Surprisingly, she really opened up to me, telling me how she always wanted to own a pet store, but never got the opportunity. She expressed her love for animals, and advised to me to always follow my dreams. I asked her what her current occupation was, and she said she was an accountant. That is on the far end of the spectrum from love of animals, which shows how her life did not turn out how she planned. By talking to this woman, I not only realized that in order to be happily successful I have to go after my dreams, but also realized that not everyone in New York was in such a hurry to get somewhere, or so conserved in their own lives.

The second stranger I encountered was inside of the deli, in the drink section picking up some beers. I casually went up to him and introduced who I am and my assignment. He seemed like he was in a hurry, but still stayed for a couple of minutes of conversation. I asked him who he was, what he did for a living, and what his thoughts on the current rise of beer prices were(I tried to pick a topic that was relatable-beer prices rose in our deli). He explained that he was a real estate agent, originally from New Jersey. He said, “I knew the economy isn’t doing so well, but I didn’t think it would extend to everything, even beer.” I agreed with him on the matter, and then he proceeded to explain how he was in a hurry to get to his house to watch a football game. When we were discussing the rise of beer prices, he felt more calm and relaxed talking to me, probably because it was the only thing we had in common.

The third stranger I encountered was not as nice as the first two. It was an older woman who was on line at the deli, waiting to pay for a carton of milk. I was on the line behind her, and introduced myself and the assignment. At first, she was ignoring me, trying to look straight ahead and pretend I was not there. However, I proceeded to talk about the assignment, and she finally turned around. She said, “What kind of assignments do they give you in school now a days? How can you just go up to someone and ask them random questions? I hate these weird school projects, so I am sorry but I do not feel like discussing my life to someone I do not know.” I immediately accepted her response and walked out of the store. I actually expected the younger people to try and get away from the situation, as opposed to an older one who I would assume would find discussing her life interesting and accompanying. However, I was mistaken, as the older lady was annoyed and somewhat angry because of the school system now a days. Overall, all three strangers were very different from each other, and I learned a little from each one.

5 Pointz Reaction Blog

Living in New York, graffiti has been surrounding me since I could remember. Although  it was very interesting and colorful, I have become immune to seeing it everywhere, so started to ignore it. I stopped paying attention to the changes that graffiti took over time, and the type of graffiti that was presented. Visiting 5 Pointz allowed me to see graffiti in a completely different way, learning about the type of graffiti that modern times has moved to, along with the reasons why the graffiti artists do it.

The graffiti on the walls of 5 Pointz were very detailed, colorful, and intricate pieces of work. It looked as if they were artistic pieces taken from a picture frame and blown up onto a wall. It is interesting to me that we use the term “graffiti artists” because we see their work as pieces of art. However, the person that gave us the tour at 5 Pointz, called himself, as well as the other participants, “aerosol writers”. He proclaimed that they do not consider their graffiti pieces of art, but rather pieces of writing. This is interesting because I have never thought of an artist as a writer. However, it does make sense because writers use their experiences and skills to create a piece of work that influences others and shares a story. The graffiti on the walls of 5 Pointz has the same effect, because the “aerosol writers” who painted these pictures used their own emotions, skills, and experiences to create them.

Another interesting concept that I learned in our trip to 5 Pointz was the process of creating a piece of graffiti. I thought that the “writers” simply use spray cans and create their picture on the wall. However, our tour guide told us that they have to first pre-draw an image, and create a stencil for it. They then put the image on the wall using the stencil, and then proceed to highlight the colors of their image. However, it is interesting to learn about all the different attributes the “writers” consider in coloring their work. They want to make sure it captures the viewers eyes, as well as picking colors that represent specific images and connotations. For example, he said if you used red, it symbolized a bold, sharp, compassionate feeling. The art displayed at 5 Pointz was very interesitng and eye catching, and the tour guide was very informative and “artistic” looking.

ASL Reflection

Although St. John’s is an academic and scholarly school that focuses primarily on education, it also emphasizes the fact that it is Vincentian. St. John’s encourages all students to give back to the community as much as they can, whether it is donating something to the less fortunate, or just helping hand out food to the homeless. Student might find this tedious because of the fact that it is a requirement, but I find it a privaledge to be able to help others by learning new experiences and changing your life. I did my ASL service at the Kehilat Sephardim of Ahavat Achim. On the first day of my service, the food pantry was originally supposed to be closed. I was about to leave, when a line of people showed up begging for food. The advisor of the program decided to open the food pantry, but the only problem was that I was going to be there with no help. However, even through the sweat and the pain, I managed to get through a 5 hour day at the pantry. This is an experience I will never forget because I got to really feel good about what I was doing. Although there were many people who did not appreciate the free food and just grabbed anything they could, there were others who were so grateful and happy to accept this gift. I must have heard a hundred “thank you’s”, which might not mean anything on a regular basis, but meant the world to me that day. It allowed me to understand that these people were really thanking me for helping them through their tough times. Some women came with 5 children, and I wondered if this is the food that is going to support them for the next week. As I watched the people and their families, or even the people that were all alone, I began to appreciate more the things I have in life, because I neer realize how much worse it is for other. The next week when I went by again, there were about 20 St.John’s students helping out. This experience was even better because not only did I make new friends, we got to all work together to make these people happy. Many of these people were categorized as survivors for the Soviet Union, which I never met. After service, the Abbot would usually eat and give us some food. Working in a Russian/Jewish environment, I was able to learn some of their language and also taste their food. They have many different traditions in their culture than what I have in mine, but living in New York is all about accepting every culture and religion, and trying to expand your borders outside of your backgroud countru. Overall, ASL was a great experience and I really enjoyed doing it.

Reaction to “The Promise” and New York

As we continue to discuss different sociological concepts associated with New York, it is easier to connect past readings to dicussions in class. We began the course by reading a chapter from, The Sociological Imagination, titled “The Promise”. This chapter discussed social changes and how they affect the life of individuals. Macro social changes, such as industrialization, rate of investements, war, etc., result in new norms which are hard for people to follow up on. This results in conflicts, and anomie, which is confusion of normalessness. The chapter concluded that individuals have to understand the larger historical scene to get a meaning of the smaller picture, because people are connected to history. Therefore, in order to successfully live during macro social changes, it is crucial to understand the connection between our personal troubles and public issues. This chapter can be connected to many changes that have gone on in society throughout the past couple of years. Taking the subway almost every day, and living in such an industrial and populated city, there are all sorts of forms of technology all around me. The world got very technology savvy over the past couple of years, probably around the time that I came into highschool. If individuals do not understand that this is a public change, and that it will affect their everyday lives, they will run into conflicts where they will not be able to assimilate with the norms. Although people do not have to use technology with their every move, they must understand that many more companies and stores that were once operated manually, for example voting, are now operated using technology. Lack of the knowledge of how to use some common forms of technology can conflict the way someone lives their life. Technology is an example of a structural force, which the chapter alludes to, stating that humans who ignore the structural forces of society will experience anomie. This chapter can be extended to many social changes taking place in the world today, such as the presidential election, the war associated with Israel, etc.                                     -Vicky Sideras