I’m always interested when I look at my stats and see that someone has read one of my old posts. That happened today and I went back to have a look at the post and realised that it is more relevant today than ever.
I wrote it in 2014 when hardly anyone was reading this blog so I thought that it might bear posting again. It does explain a lot about social distancing and why I personally have not had a really difficult time during lockdown. David was still alive when I wrote the original post although I rarely referred to him by name in blog posts. I’m posting the article pretty much as I originally wrote it.
We often hear people expressing their annoyance when someone “gets in their space”. Our personal space is important to us and we don’t like it violated without our permission.
When I was at school I was told that in some countries, those which were more densely populated than Australia, a person’s personal space was smaller because he or she was accustomed to being at close quarters with others.
In 2010 Australia’s population density was 2.9 people per square kilometre although of course the figure varies from place to place. Large cities like Sydney and Melbourne are more densely populated than smaller ones or regional areas such as the one where I live. China has a population density of about 140 people per square kilometre. I’m glad that I don’t live in China because I require a great deal of personal space.
My Home Is My Castle
We lived next door to the same people for almost 25 years and while we were on very good terms with them I was never one for talking over the back fence. When I am in my back yard I want to be private. I never popped over to neighbour’s houses just to chat and didn’t really like them coming to ours unannounced. One of the things that I like about living in the country is having a larger block of land and one of the attractions of the home we bought when we moved here was that there was only one next door neighbour. On the other side there is a power sub station and I often tell people it is a perfect neighbour, no loud parties, nobody coming and going at odd times and no vehicles parked in front of our house. Behind us there were empty blocks where another neighbour grazed a horse. I was incensed when the land was sold and subdivided and we acquired several new neighbours. They don’t bother us much but I just don’t like the fact that they are there at all. I preferred the horse.
Of course there are a lot of factors which determine how much personal space a person needs. An About.com article by Debbie Main on the subject says this:
Determining Factors for Personal Space
The comfortable space between you and someone you know well will probably be much smaller than it would be if you barely knew the other person. With a stranger, it is even greater. Typically, people who live in crowded cities have smaller personal space preferences than those who live in wide-open spaces.
Other factors that determine a comfortable personal space:
Male to male
Female to female
Male to female
Professional relationship – any combination of male and female
Romantic versus platonic relationship
Culture and country
It is generally thought that there are four distinct levels or zones of social distance that can occur in different situations. Alan Pease, in his book “Body Language” describes them as follows.
- Intimate Zone (between 15 and 45 centimetres or 6 to 18 inches)
- Personal Zone (between 46 centimetres and 1.22 metres or 18 to 48 inches)
- Social Zone (between 1.22 and 3.6 metres or 4 to 12 feet)
- Public Zone (over 3.6 metres or 12 feet)
The intimate zone is the one that most of us hate strangers entering. It is reserved for the people we are closest to. Of course there are times when it can’t be avoided like when we are commuting. I don’t particularly like being crammed into a bus, plane or train at busy times but I accept it when it is necessary. Luckily for me these days that is not very often. I’ve noticed though that whenever I get on a bus most people take a seat by themselves first, usually the window seat and then all the inside seats fill up. When I catch our local bus service to or from Hobart I do the same but if I’m forced to sit next to someone else it doesn’t bother me that much. I often see people that I recognise and sometimes I chat to them. However, when I travel to visit my sister who lives in another town I always ask permission before taking the empty seat beside someone else.
Then there are elevators, the unwritten rule of elevators is that you do not speak or make eye contact with other passengers. However it seems to be acceptable to talk on mobile phones. Hubby says that on occasion he has stood facing the other passengers just to see what people would do. Some apparently find it quite disturbing.
I’m never sure what to do when I am at a food court or cafe and there are no empty tables. Often I’ll just walk away rather than sit down at the table with a stranger. I actually broke my rule about that earlier this week and approached someone to ask if I could sit at her table. Hubby and I were getting lunch and as Hubby is a big fellow he isn’t comfortable sitting in a booth. There are only a few tables he is able to sit at so our choices were limited. I’ve never refused if someone has asked if they could sit at my table but I never feel comfortable and usually hurry through my meal so I can get away.
No Hugs Please, I’m British
What I really dislike though is unwanted physical contact. I’m not a big hugger, nor is my sister. We are extremely close but I can only think of two times that we’ve hugged each other in the last twenty years. When our mother died and when my sister was involved in a minor car accident. I don’t mind being hugged by family and close friends although I don’t usually initiate the hug. I mind very much being hugged by people who are not my friends.
I used to do volunteer work at a place where several of the other volunteers where “huggy” people. I liked them, we’d often go and have coffee together after our shift was finished but I didn’t really like being hugged. I accepted it because I didn’t want to be rude or hurt their feelings by asking them not to do it. After a couple of years there something unpleasant happened which involved some of these people and I no longer considered them friends. I moved on but we live in a small community so although I could not forget what had been said or done if I couldn’t avoid meeting them I would be polite. Earlier this week Hubby and I were outside the local supermarket selling raffle tickets for another organisation we belong to and along came two of these people. In their minds we are still friends, and both of them wanted to hug me. It was awful because they did not seem to realise that I didn’t like it at all and was not responding. I really hate situations like that but the only way I could prevent it from happening in future would be to tell them my true feelings and that would probably cause the sort of scene that I left that place to avoid. Of course this situation is about more than just my personal space being invaded but as a general rule I don’t want casual acquaintances to get into my intimate space.
I don’t know if my Britishness has anything to do with what might be seen by some people to be standoffishness. English people are often referred to as being reserved although I think that there are probably as many outgoing and affectionate English people as there are anywhere else. It’s a stereotype but maybe one that has a tiny amount of truth in it. I have lived in Australia for most of my life so I think that really it might just be me.
How much personal space do you need?
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