Before I arrived in China I was told that it was inappropriate to cross chopsticks or to leave them standing on end, poked into the food. When I first arrived here, I was pretty circumspect with the kids when they handled chopsticks, explaining that it was important not to engage in behaviors that would bother other people. Interestingly, sometime between then and now it is I who have become bothered by poor etiquette in this regard – my negative reaction to a possible faux pas has become a negative reaction to the behavior itself. All this despite the fact that I have never experienced a sanction or reaction at the hands of others in the face of missteps and have no idea what problemmatic meaning crossed or standing chopsticks might have.
That is the power of social norms. In this case, they have no material or experiential basis and yet I am emotionally predisposed to compliance.