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To Clap or Not to Clap
Julia Zhao ’24 Staff Writer
November 18, 2021

This past term, the debate of whether or not we should clap for dropped plates has become the center of discussion in the dining hall. Despite Mr. Scandling’s multiple pointed announcements, rebellious applause can nearly always be heard at the following meal after the breaking of a plate, drop of a tray, or even shattering of an entire crate of glasses if we’re lucky.

Credit: Allyson Xu

Let me paint you a picture: it’s a Friday afternoon and DeMo is almost ready to introduce announcements. The Deerfield community is collectively exhausted and ready for the weekend. Most sit back in their chairs and bask in awkward silence because no one has the energy to initiate a conversation. All but the second waiters, who reluctantly get to their feet and begin clearing their tables. Off they go, navigating through any narrow gap they can find amongst the chaos of a Friday afternoon sit down. 

A few minutes (and maybe a few food stains) later, a second waiter returns with an empty tray. “Round one: safe and sound,” he thinks to himself. With (minimal) help from his table, it’s now time to start playing tetris with a million plates, utensils, and dirtied napkins. This round is going to be significantly harder. 

“Three, two, one, and lift,” the second waiter counts to themselves. The flimsy plastic tray bends under the weight of precariously stacked dishes. After a few hesitant steps, he questions his decision: would this be better to do this in two trips? This is his last clean shirt so he really can’t risk staining it.

An answer comes crashing, interrupting his considerations. Suddenly a stray shoulder is colliding into his own. His cramping fingers give way and the tray comes crashing towards the floor as if in slow motion. Within seconds, all that’s left of his cargo are shards of porcelain and scattered utensils. Before he has a chance to process what has just happened, thunderous clapping has surrounded him.

Maybe this applause is just what this second waiter needs. It could be what turns this potentially embarrassing situation into a shared funny experience. On the other hand, six hundred people clapping at you can be overwhelming to some (I suppose). To the more introverted students, or anyone who’s just having a bad day, this badly-timed round of applause could easily be their breaking point after a stressful week.

Many students choose to clap when they hear a plate drop because they view it as a fun way of celebrating their peers’ failures. Others decide on a more sympathetic route and don’t clap out of respect for the plate-dropper.

“It may not be a suitable way of distracting attention for every student,” Mr. Scandling said, who believes that there are other ways to make this situation less embarrassing. As one of the faculty members who has taught at Deerfield the longest, to Mr. Scandling, school traditions rely on the values the community holds in them. The person receiving the clapping may not perceive the action in the same way that the clapper intends, so he suggests that it might be better just to silently get up and help clean the mess.