November 19, 2012

Guess who's coming to dinner

Your primitive self, apparently, since your choice of where to sit at Thanksgiving is driven by instinct and personality.

By Ray Routhier
Staff Writer

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Staff Photo Illustration/Michael Fisher

A child starts by labeling personal objects, like a shoe or a shirt, as "mine." But as the child grows, it's important that he or she identifies with common areas as well, so that he has "my" seat at the table or "my" chair in the living room.

Caroline Remley, a Portland mother who is working toward degrees in psychology and social work at USM, said she's heard kids over the years say they choose the same seat at the table each night at dinner because it feels good. She agrees, and views it as a source of regular comfort that she can rely on at the end of a hectic day.

"It's nice to have some order. No matter what happens during the day, you know where you are going to sit for dinner," said Remley.

As people mature, they might still want their same seats at the table, but they will begin to understand they can share that seat, like when Grandma comes to visit, Thornton said.

So if you've got family members who won't give up their regular seats for anyone at Thanksgiving, you might want to take a closer look at what other immaturity issues they might have.

But people's personalities have a lot to do with everyday seating choices too. And we're not just talking about the simple facts that leaders and people who crave attention might pick the head of your Thanksgiving table, while people who want to blend in choose the middle or far end. Or even that brown-noser who wants to suck up to the boss by choosing a seat next to him or her.

It might also depend where you are when you pick your seat -- like at your house or someone else's. If you pick the head of the table at someone else's house, for example, that's probably going to be seen as pushy, said Thornton.

Jessica Brida, a Fryeburg native now living in Los Angeles, notes that when she's home for Thanksgiving in Maine, her parents still sit at either end of the table because they are the heads of that household. If she had Thanksgiving in Los Angeles, she'd get to sit on the end.

Still, because of our hunter-gatherer past, usually the mother of a household where a father is also present will sit on the end where her back is to the room's entrance, not facing it. That's because, Augustin says, the dominant female in a group had to be in a position where she could make eye contact with and take cues from the dominant male.

Brida, however, has also noticed over the years that she's developed a seating quirk about riding in cars, and it has roots in both the practical and the emotional.

She usually picks a seat on the right side of the car and in the back -- though not necessarily all the way in the back, because she gets car sick. She says she picks the right back seat because when she was in high school, a friend was killed in a fatal car crash. There were other people in the car too, and the one who "fared best" in the crash was in the back seat on the right-hand side.

"I know intellectually that it probably doesn't matter where you sit," Brida said, "but I always tend to think that I'll be safest if I'm sitting on the right-hand side."


Augustin says personal space needs and seating habits often start with whether a person is an extrovert or introvert, in psychological terms. It's important to remember, she says, that being extroverted is not about being friendly and talkative and being introverted doesn't necessarily mean you're shy and retiring.

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