Wednesday, September 21


The fact is that chairs are extraordinarily constraining devices, and for that reason, in many societies other than our own, they are kept for exceptionally solemn occasions. They force us to sit where they are placed... Anthropologists tell us of at least 132 main ways of sitting; only about 30 of these involve anything resembling a chair. Among this restricted number of postures, many are thought impolite in our society, even for men. Women should strictly speaking sit in only very few of them, with legs either together or crossed; crossing their legs at the knee represented a revolutionary relaxation in quite recent times. Our clothing is designed with chairs very much in mind. Broad, flowing robes are required for floor-sitting, if much clothing be worn at all... Rigidity -- sitting bolt upright on a chair and very still -- is traditionally, with us, a sign of decorum... Sitting, provided that it is on a chair, enhances social stature: people who can arrange to sit while everyone else is obliged to stand are usually eliciting respect. There is only one posture which can beat sitting erect for status, and that is lying down... People lying down take up a lot of space; if nobody else is spread out full length, the distinction, and the focussing of everybody's attention, can be impressive.

-- Margaret Visser The Rituals of Dinner