in service of ritual
January 14, 2016 9:10 AM   Subscribe

What are some good examples of ritualized service?

The article brings up healthcare examinations and wine service as examples of services that follow a very particular set of instructions (and where skipping a step might feel jarring). There's also cigar service, bootblacking, (both links potentially NSFW as they discuss BDSM) and the Japanese tea ceremony.

I recognize that most of the examples would either come from a BDSM context or from hospitality schools; I'm open to examples from wherever, kinky or vanilla or non-sexual. I'm interested in descriptions of the different steps of each ritual; having someone talk through their own process is great!
posted by divabat to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Once upon a time the way an attendant at a gas station would fill you up, wash the windows, etc.

I suppose some might take umbrage at calling it a "service" in the sense you mean but most religious services are highly ritualized, with a specific order for what happens. For many this constancy is the biggest draw, really.

The order of events on a plane, from the crew welcoming you on boarding to the safety spiel to meal service to landing procedures to the crew standing there saying bye as you disembark.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:28 AM on January 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I assume you might also find some within religion where the act being performed is a service but also highly ritualized. The examples I have are from Judaism, the mikveh or ritual bathing that accompanies certain rites of passage. Of course the bathing is just a thing you'd be doing anyhow, but it turns into a larger thing by being part of the ritual. Similarly, washing corpses is a thing that many Jews still do (even ones who aren't very observant) as a part of the grieving process (along with sitting shivah which is a bit of a formalized grieving process) which has roles for the family of the deceased but also the community members who bring food and other service aspects.
posted by jessamyn at 10:02 AM on January 14, 2016

Speaking as a religious person, I don't think we would find it offensive. In the Christian context, churches for which the main service is Holy Communion / Divine Service / Mass / Eucharist conduct highly ritualized services, both in their overall form and in the small details of how work is performed throughout the service and especially during the Eucharistic Prayer. The word for this is "Liturgy".

The center of the service is a ritualized meal ("Eucharist" -- which means Thanksgiving in Greek) in which the priest, with the assistance of other clergy and lay persons, receives bread and wine (grape juice in some Protestant churches), prepares the Table / Altar, blesses the bread and wine, asking God to make it to be "the body" and "the blood" of Christ for the spiritual feeding of the faithful*, and distributes the blessed elements of bread and wine to the members of the congregation. There are also specific items of clothing (generally based on the dress common in the Roman Empire, but of course things have evolved for 2,000 years) that are worn which denote participants' roles in the service.

Every tradition does this differently, of course, and each congregation / parish within a tradition is probably going to do things slightly differently within acceptable bounds for the tradition.

If you want to jump down the rabbit hole in lurid, equal-parts-reverent-and-irreverent detail on Matters Liturgical, I recommend browsing the forums at Ship of Fools, particularly their Ecclesiantics board. Or MeMail me, I'm a huge nerd about this stuff.

*the exact meaning of this has been highly disputed and has led to plenty of intercommunal violence down through the ages, Muslims definitely don't have a monopoly on religious violence, regardless of what certain people are saying these days :(
posted by tivalasvegas at 10:04 AM on January 14, 2016

If you haven't, look into some of the books that Joshua Tenpenny and Raven Kaldera have written on service from a BDSM perspective. I know they've written at least one that focuses on service as a religious practice. (I haven't read that one, though I've heard it well recommended by others.) You might also be interested in their Real Service, which isn't specifically about religion or ritual, but which does talk a lot about forms of BDSM service that go beyond the usual boots-and-cigars thing. (That one I have read, and recommend highly.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:17 AM on January 14, 2016

The order of events on a plane, from the crew welcoming you on boarding to the safety spiel to meal service to landing procedures to the crew standing there saying bye as you disembark.

And there are sub-sections of that order of service -- for example, the hot napkin / towel -- that expect certain responses from passengers.
posted by holgate at 10:18 AM on January 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

To a certain extent I find troubleshooting a ritualized thing. For example, if the cable/phone goes out, there's a process you follow:

1. Check the TV in the other room
2. Reboot the cable box.
3. Reboot the cable modem
4. Check the wired connections
5. Check the community Facebook page to see if anyone has commented
6. Comment on the community Facebook page
7. Chat with customer service/report the outage

You get the idea. It's always going to be in that order, with actually contacting Comcast down at the very bottom of the list.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:19 AM on January 14, 2016

Another part of the customer service script that I find strikingly ritualized is the way you pay for a sit-down restaurant meal in North America: the little black folder that hides the bill, the careful set of signals that let you manage the exchange without ever acknowledging out loud that money is changing hands.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:22 AM on January 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Following on the restaurant theme, I was at at upscale one for dinner the other night where we were seated with the drinks menu and wine list, but no menus. The menus didn't come until the drink orders were taken and the drinks returned. It was jarring. I was thinking, where are the menus? Then the next table was seated and I heard them wondering aloud whether they forgot to bring them menus, when would they get them, etc.
posted by cecic at 10:43 AM on January 14, 2016

Upscale massage is very ritualized.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:13 AM on January 14, 2016

Bedtime rituals for young children come to mind. I'm sure we were not alone in having a set of steps that had to be followed pretty precisely, at around age 2. I don't remember it all but it involved things like bath, teeth, jammies, story, teddy bear, tuck in, goodnight kiss, etc. Any misstep and we were likely to have uncontrollable wailing (not a tantrum at all), basically because of tiredness and (I think) a mental inability to cope with something unexpected.
posted by beagle at 11:31 AM on January 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

(Yerba) mate in the Southern Cone. Local variations on these practices exist.
posted by dr. boludo at 11:49 AM on January 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Saying "Hello?" on the phone when you have Caller ID and know exactly who is calling you? Jumping right into conversation can be disorienting for both parties.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:04 PM on January 14, 2016

I think getting a light for a cigarette from a stranger follows a sort of ritual, though I can't describe it because I don't smoke.

Holding a door for a stranger (or acquaintance) is a service and some folks get downright angry if they're version of the ritual isn't followed.

Cashier interactions. Shops (especially chain stores) are constantly shifting the ritual. Adding in or substituting verbal tics and politeness. Plus also offering additional services and ways of tracking your purchases (disguised as discount programs).
posted by bilabial at 1:15 PM on January 14, 2016

From the perspective of the customer (so I don't really know what I'm talking about) - I think the service provided at Korean bbq restaurants qualifies?

There's a gas fired hot plate in the middle of the table, and your server will come and briefly present the carefully arranged platter of raw meat and mushrooms / condiments to you, then place the the meats on the hot plate and begin cooking it, then wander off, periodically returning to turn the meat and check on its progress. This allows you and your companions to have the privacy of conversation, while enjoying the sights and aroma of the cooking bbq and picking at your starters. When the meat is finally done the server will return, cut up the meat if necessary, plate it on a long white serving dish in front of you, possibly replace the hot plate and begin to cook round 2. Repeat for as many courses as you've ordered. You are not meant to touch anything related to bbq except to eat it.
posted by xdvesper at 2:10 PM on January 14, 2016

Any interaction with a public servant/civil service employee. From getting pulled over/ arrested, to appearing in court.

Which I think has something to do with some of the victim blaming that happens when these encounters result in assaults or deaths of citizens. You'll hear people give such advice as to not reach into your glove box too soon or too quickly, to speak calmly, don't yell. Rituals are thought to have protective power. As someone said to me in conversation about this question 'the ritual is what makes it safe for a stranger to touch you.'* And as many know, being safe and feeling safe are not the same, and victim blaming is one of the ways we remain able to feel safe even while we know we are in danger.

Then of course we have the Miranda warning and other verbal aspects of the ritual.

*(We were talking about manicures and massages and other beautifying rituals. For instance, also at the mikveh, you must scrub your hands and feet and wash and comb your hair and remove anything that prevents your body from being touched by the water. Some mikveh are more like spas.
posted by bilabial at 2:56 PM on January 14, 2016

There's the Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremony (less informative wikipedia).
posted by mhum at 5:25 PM on January 14, 2016

A lot of club meetings are ritualized. I was a guest at a Rotary Club meeting once and it was a long time ago but I distinctly remember that there was a time during the meeting when usually they would ring a bell - but the bell wasn't present, and so several members called out, "Ding!" at that moment. They evidently just did not feel right about proceeding without the ding.

Girl Scout meetings have some structure to them; usually there is a set order of elements like a recitation of the Girl Scout Promise, assignment of kapers (chores), a craft activity, serving of a snack, and singing a closing song holding hands in a circle.
posted by lakeroon at 8:21 PM on January 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

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