Close Encounters


What is your standard of personal space? There are close talkers and others who prefer a greater distance, a sort of range of acceptability. My guess is that most cultures would have this kind of spectrum. The interesting part is how different the appropriate range of nearness varies from culture to culture, as well as how we just don’t notice it until we go somewhere else. I’ve recently learned the term for this is called proxemics, a term coined in the 60’s built from “proximity”. I’m in the States right now getting my annual dose of family, friends and English and I’ve noticed I’ve adjusted myself to the Chilean paradigm. For most comfortable conversations in the US, we stand about an arm’s distance apart. This distance becomes greater between people who don’t know each other.

In Chile people are more comfortable being nearer to one another, which may explain why couples find it acceptable to smooch right next to me on public transportation – and by that I mean inches from my face sometimes. It’s normal for me to have maybe only a foot between my face and a friend’s at a party, or even someone I’ve only just met. I find it comfortable, because, well I guess I’ve just gotten used to it. Now I notice when I’m home I have to tell myself to increase the distance I have with another individual because I feel I may be making them uncomfortable. It’s fun and weird moving between two cultures and adjusting to the norms of each society. When I first get home I always say “excuse me” or “I’m sorry” in Spanish when I bump into someone. Once I make the language switch I have to remind myself to shake hands with new individuals and not automatically lean in for a Chilean right-side-of-the face double kiss. Then in a few weeks I’ll switch it all back to the much closer physical style of South America – for the most part seamlessly – and prep myself for the second summer of the year.

What’s it like where you live?


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