A few months ago I witnessed something that is an uncommon occurrence in the States. I was waiting in our favorite local Thai restaurant for our take-out order to be ready, when a young woman walked in the door. This woman wasn’t particularly remarkable: dressed in jeans and T-shirt, she looked like a fairly typical Asian-American college student.
But upon seeing her, the woman behind the counter bowed to her. Almost immediately, one of the waiters did the same. They stayed bowed until she acknowledged: a polite, even friendly wave that let them know, yes, they could get back to what they were doing. Then she went on to join friends at a table.
Now, being a writer, I immediately began to speculate on what I just witnessed. It could have been as mundane as a sign of respect for the boss’s daughter, or as elaborate as her being a minor member of the Thai royal family. I had no clue.
But what was clear was that this was an overt display of class distinction, where two people showed reverence for a member of the higher class, and that person showed acknowledgment of that reverence. Both sides followed the rules of what was expected of them upon meeting.
We don’t see that in the States much, partly because our class distinctions are fuzzy, fluid and ill-defined. As such, there are no hard-and-fast rules of protocol. But that’s a quirk of our culture. Many cultures do have class distinctions where the lines are very strictly defined, as are the rules for interaction between classes.
So, how do your characters show that, especially in a way that shows that both sides of the table have rules and expectations. Or, how do your characters subvert the expectations?