The third place

A bookstore.

Where do you go to immerse yourself in the human condition?

Leave the house. Go to uni. Go to work. Come back home. 

If a red string was used to map out our daily whereabouts, we would probably see a thick swathe of string running between these locations. That’s because they’re our first and second places – our homes, workplaces, and schools. 

But what about those spaces we go to simply for the fulfilment of our social needs: to engage in conversations or activities with people outside of the working or schooling context, or home environment? A place to simply hangout. You know, a third place. 

Coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in the 1980s, the ‘third place’ essentially refers to a place other than the home or the workplace (and school) where people go to be around other people. Think: cafes, gyms, community centres, and those park benches along River Torrens – anywhere you can meet new people or meet up with old ones. 

I never knew there was a term for it. So, when it came to my attention, I got to thinking about the places I’ve unconsciously considered my third place.

One that immediately springs to mind were the bookstores. Very cliché but I think it’s quite on brand for an introvert like me. I get to be around story tellers and other people without having to talk to anyone. Ok, so that sort off defeats the whole purpose of a social space, but what I’m trying to say is I don’t have to walk into a bookstore and immediately feel pressured to engage with everybody like you would at a networking event or a club meeting. 

A simple smile, a nod and occasionally, a conversation with the stranger next to me about the book they’re eyeing would suffice. Besides, gushing with the staff over a book I had picked up would tick the conversation box anyway. 

Another one I could think of – albeit an unconventional one – is my local halal butcher. To be clear, I don’t go there and sit around sipping tea like one would at a café. No, of course I go there with the primary intention of doing my weekly grocery shopping, but the welcoming atmosphere that has been created by the owners of the store makes it so it has become a social space for the community. 

I observe the man standing behind the counter decorated with today’s meat and poultry selection asking a customer how his family is doing and what his plans are for the holidays. He goes on to have a conversation with every other customer as though they had known each other for some time. He does the same when I walk up to the counter, inquiring about my day and Malaysia. 

One’s third place can be anywhere, and I think with our rapid dependence on the internet, it can exist over the metaverse too. So, where’s your third place?

Tagged in What messes with your head, third place, university, international student