A few years back, on a glorious sunny morning, I picked up breakfast and headed over to the university. Since it was such a beautiful day, I sat down on the wall in front of the Humanities Building and ate, waving at the students as they passed by on their way to morning class. A totally satisfying way to begin the day….

The next day I found out that I had violated an unwritten rule. A teacher drew me aside. “Michael,” she said in a low voice, “you made us really uncomfortable yesterday.”
“What? How?”
“Sitting outside and eating like that. That was really strange.”
“What? Why?”
“It just wasn’t right.”
Apparently there is a rule that teachers must never be seen to eat outside of their offices and designated eating areas, which I had violated right there in front of everyone. It reminded me of the time I deeply offended the students at my school in Kenya by putting up a picture of my grandfather dancing at a wedding with my sister, physical contact between the sexes in the same family being verboten. They made me take it down.

A similar incident occurred last week when I was at the university where I am a student. Drowsy after a hard morning of studying, I went out into a lounge area formed by a huge space in the hallway, and saw a couch. Going over to it, I discovered to my delight that it was nice and firm, plenty of back support, with a high armrest that made a perfect pillow. It was just begging me to take a nap. So without further ado I kicked off my shoes and stretched out.

Apparently, that too was wrong. The next day I met the Chairman of the Department, who took me aside and begged me never to do that again. I guess sleeping in a public area with one’s head on the table is OK, but sleeping on a couch that no one ever uses is totally wrong. Why, I have no idea…..