Wednesday, February 18, 2009


For this ethnography assignment I chose an In N’ Out restaurant for my observation field.  For over an hour I sat on the outside patio at a table next to the window looking into the restaurant.  I have chosen to focus my analysis on four groups of people that I gained the most observational material on.  Coincidently, these four groups each consist of a male and female subject. 

Observation Group I: There is a male and female walking with coffees.  She is wearing long sleeves and he is wearing short sleeves.  She woman is walking a few steps behind the man while they 

talk and watch their dog.  The woman is making plans for a trip they should go on.  He responds with “uh huh’s.”  **TIME PASSES**  They walk to the same car together, stand on the driver’s side of the car, passionately make out for about one minute, then the woman goes to the passenger side of the car, they both get it.  They appear to talk for a minute or two and then they drive away.

Observation Group II:  Around the same time, another pair of a man and a woman wait for their food to be ready by the condiment stand.  The man pulls out his Blackberry and uses it for a few minutes, but not for a phone call, while the woman just sips from her drink.  After he puts his away, she pulls out her iPhone,

 which has a yellow cover, and she plays with hers.  They have minimal eye contact.  After they move outside to the patio, where I am sitting, and sit at a four person table.  They choose to sit next to one another.  The man crosses his legs with them more spread apart while the woman crosses her legs closer together.  Man seems to finish his food first and pulls out his Blackberry again.

Observation Group III:  The next subjects are younger than the first two sets.  They seem to be in their early to mid twenties.  They bring their food over to a two person table in the corner of the restaurant.  The woman sits against the wall an

d he faces her towards the window.  In the middle of their meal he pulls out his cell phone and does something on it.  The woman continues to eat in silence.  After he puts the phone away again and they eat and talk.  They kiss each other from across the table.  And then return to eating.  He gets up and throws the trash away.  While he is gone, she picks up her phone and does something.  She puts it away before he returns.  After they are done, they leave the restaurant with interlocked fingers.  As they approach the car they kiss each other for only a moment and then part to opposite sides of the car.  She gets into the driver side of the car. 

Observation Group IV:  The final subjects that I observed for only a moment were waiting in line to or

der their food.  They were teenagers.  They embraced each other very closely, arms wrapped each other.  The girl rested her hands on the boys butt and giggles.  The boy shook her hands off his butt but as she continued to giggle she put her hands inside of his pants and actually touched his butt.  He repeated the motion to have her remove her hands. 


It seems that I focused my observation on couples opposed to platonic groups of individuals.  It cannot be confirmed that group II was actually a couple but one could argue either way.  It has been my assessment that romance is typically illustrated in terms of physical action opposed to words.  As an observer, my ability to hear the conversations of my subjects was limited.  I was fully open to their physical actions, however.  It was clear to me that groups I, III, and IV were couples because of their physical contact and it was unclear that group II was in a romantic relationship because there was a lack of physical contact.  It seems that romance is more of an act than a feeling.  And if that is the case, is it more for the people involved or for people who can see them?  I am most certain that the girl who stuck her hands down her boyfriend’s pants was not doing it for my benefit but it certainly it was an illustration of her affection for him.  Who was she trying to tell, him or everyone at In N Out?


            What made group I so interesting was their dynamic between indifference and passion.  For the majority of my observation, they not only lacked physical contact, but they lacked real communication.  They were together but were not very involved with one another.  The man was indifferent to the woman making vacation plans for them, while the woman did not stand next to him while she spoke.  She practically followed him while they walked.  Therefore, it caught me by surprise when they partook in a very passionate, tongue-y kiss in the parking lot.  McDonald explanation of today's sex comedies versus the ones in the 1960's helps to make sense of this dynamic between passion and disinterest.  One of the main components of the sex comedy in the 1960's was opposition between the main man and woman.  Today, however, this theme can no longer be found in the sex comedy, but is now in the romantic comedy (McDonald 57).  It deals with trying to ignore the undeniable bond and lust and by the end of the film, the desire is so strong that neither character can fight it off any longer.  This couple does not illustrate a romantic comedy.  They are the modern day sex comedy.  There is no struggle, it is just there and available for the taking.  In today's sex comedies, the characters do not have to work very hard to get sex; that is not where the conflict lies.  Typically, the issues and struggles occur after the sex has occurred.  Group I illustrates this lack of struggle to tap into their sexuality with one another, while simultaneously illustrating not knowing what to do next.

            Group II symbolized realism to me.  They exuded this confusion of their relationship.  They could have been friends, co-workers, or boyfriend and girlfriend, or husband and wife.  It suggests that the line between these relationships could actually be blurred into one another.  Sometimes it is difficult to define relationships because society has already defined them for us.  Just because the subjects of group II did not partake in physical contact should not suggest that they are not romantically involved with one another.  It seems the idea of “PDA”, public displays of affection, has completely changed the idea of romanticism.  Instead of it being a personal thing between two people, it now for the people involved and for everyone around them to see, to validate that it happened and provide meaning for the actions. 

            In addition to this changing idea of romance, cell phone usage seems to hold an ever-changing meaning in social situations.  As an on looker, it appears that group II and III’s usage of the cell phone suggests boredom or disinterest.  But really, when I consider how often I use my cell phone while I am with my boyfriend, there must be a mistranslation between the phone user and the person they are actually with, and with the people who surround them, and in my case are watching them.  For group III, the cell phone acted as a means to entertain for the girl when the boy left.  It appeared as if the boy was using the cell phone as a means of communication while he was with the girl.  Nevertheless, cell phones have become an added confusion factor when it comes to the world of dating and interpretation of the signs.

            If I was to define group III in Romantic Comedy terms, they would be the best friends who end up together.  They illustrated comfort with one another while refraining from physical forms of affection.  However, the little kiss in the middle of their meal was just enough to illustrate the depth of their connection without making anyone around them regurgitate their food.  When they left the restaurant, they had intertwining fingers.  They were not actually holding hands, but they were “holding fingers.”  It suggested more of a cute than passionate romance.  They did not look like they were trying at anything, whereas group I really showed passion and work when they kissed.  In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche is constantly looking for this highly idealized relationship and partner.  When she says “I don’t want realism, I want magic” it suggests that the real world lacks this form of illustrated love and passion.  It is idea of the ultimate show of affection.  You must do to love.  Group III were much more real than magic, but there was still romance.

            Group IV is your teenaged romantic comedy.  Young love is always interesting because it is in its developmental stage.  Even though the communication between men and women is always complicated, this complicatedness is heightened when you are a teenager.  I assess that the explicit touching in an In N Out by the girl was out of necessity in her mind.  She needed to show the boy how much she liked him and she did so physically.  I am certain that the boy understood this but he also seemed to understand the intensity of the act was a little too intense for public.  It just seemed to me that their intense, embracive hug was an illustration of their affection towards one another.  Perhaps this is because they do not know other ways to express it.  In fact, people they need others to categorize them into a romantic category for it to be so.  It is extremely similar to Bye Bye Birdie.  Had no one talked about Kim getting pinned, would it really have mattered at all?  Would she and Hugo felt the same way about each other?


Work Cited

McDonal, Tamars Jeffers. Romantic Comedy: Boy Meets Girl Meets Genre. London: Wallflower Press, 2007

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