Hard To Tell Sometimes

I have a friend who’s in town for a few weeks.

He mentioned that he’s taking a boat trip to a local surf spot with some friends from town. When I asked who was going with him, he named a few friends and one of them is a young Mexican who owns the surf shop in town. Next, I asked if the shop owner was going as a friend or as a guide. My friend from out-of-town assumed the shop owner will be sporting the friend hat, not the guide hat.

Social norms and market norms are both agreements between people that shouldn’t be mixed up. For example, if you go to your neighbor’s house for Christmas dinner you wouldn’t consider tossing a fifty on the table “to cover things” after the big meal. You’d be violating a social norm for a shared meal in a home. Maybe, in the near future, you’ll invite your hosts over to your house for dinner. That is the implicit social norm.

On the other hand, say you had dinner at a nice restaurant, you wouldn’t consider negotiating the price of the meal on the way out. The market norm is that you pay a certain, agreed upon price that’s presented in the menu for your food.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether something is governed by a social norm or a market norm. And it gets more complicated because norms in different countries aren’t necessarily all the same. I told my friend to make sure soon that everyone’s on the same page to avoid any awkwardness, “You might assume the surf shop owner is a more of a friend who owns a surf shop, while he’s thinking he’s more of a surf shop owner who’s sort of your friend.”