Ah, high school: from first period to the final bell, you're forced to abide by a strict regime of rigorously-scheduled classes and pre-ordained locker locations; it's sort of like prison, but less fun. And yet, in this desert of conformity, we find an oasis: the cafeteria. The cafeteria is the one place where you can decide for yourself where you will sit and who you will spend your time with; it's a paradise where ideas mingle with tater tots in a salty explosion of self-expression. But this sweet freedom must be treated carefully, lest your choice of seating become yet another inescapable trap. Here is your field guide to surviving the cafeteria.
Identify Your Table: Certain places have been spoken for long before you even learned to make a tracing of your hand into a turkey in kindergarden—those tables by the windows, for example, have always belonged to the seniors, and someday you too will ascend to their ranks as a sign of your dominance over underclassmen. But until then, avoid their territory, and focus on the remaining tables, which are subject to a barbaric free-for-all of territorial marking within the first few weeks of school. Once claimed, these seating arrangements are unassailable and will likely hold until sometime around next year's homecoming dance, so your best bet is to form an alliance with your friends and settle on a good location to claim. If you are challenged, hold your ground. Should a jock attempt to expand his empire by taking over your spot, do not hesitate to jump on top of the table, bare your teeth, and pound your tray against the wooden surface in a sign of dominance. Once defeated, the jock will lay on his back, exposing his soft underbelly as a sign of submission, before slinking back to a safe territory to take part in a raging debate on the merits of Powerade vs. Gatorade.
Know Your Foods: What you eat will speak volumes about your character. Choose the Lunch Lady Surprise and you'll be seen as a devil-may-care renegade with a cast-iron stomach willing to take on any mystery culinary challenge. Choose pizza and you'll be seen as awesome and regular, because everybody likes pizza. The downside to relying on the cafeteria is that you're once again subject to the whims of the school board, and who knows when those whims might spring haggis on you? Is it unlikely that the school board will decide to serve an ancient Scottish dish made of sheep stomachs? Yes. But there's always a nagging what if? For a safer dining experience, you can bring food from home, but this still sends a message. Bring roast duck on focaccia and you're a snobby rich kid. Bring an unopened can of Spam and the other students will worry about your home life. Settle on a normal sandwich and an apple for the least questionable meal.
Don't Be Afraid to Change Things Up: Too often students settle at one table with the same group of people and don't move from it for the rest of the school year. Having friends is all well and good, but remember that you can mix it up. If you see a new student who looks lonely, invite them to sit with you; you'll probably make their day. If you need a little "me" time, don't be afraid to find a spot in a staircase or the commons to read a favorite book, or sketch, or practice your archery skills (ok, maybe not the last one).
Really, the best tip we can give you is not to take the cafeteria too seriously; lunch is supposed to be the best period of the day, so don't worry about the seating hierarchy or the "rules"; just relax and enjoy your Oreos. Oh, and never eat the raw ham stew, unless you're not planning on using your spleen ever again.
What are your best tips for navigating the cafeteria?