The Close Talker

You know it when someone is in your personal space! Something has happened – you feel invaded. Remember this episode from Seinfeld?

Personal Space

We laugh at Aaron, the “close talker”. He loves to invade the personal space of new acquaintances, conversing with them at a distance normally reserved for only the most intimate relationships. Awkward!

“Personal space” refers to the physical distance between people in different relationships and contexts that is considered appropriate.

Every culture has norms concerning personal, social and public space. These norms differ widely from culture to culture. North Americans and many European cultures prefer at least three feet of personal space when engaged in conversation with an acquaintance at work or in a social setting. In many Latin American and Mediterranean cultures, a foot and a half is a normal distance for conversing.

Imagine the scene in which a North American socializes with someone from a Latin American culture. The North American may feel the need to back up in order to be comfortable. Conversely, the Latin American will wonder why his/her North American friend seems to be running away!

Social Distancing

The pandemic brings a whole new perspective regarding our behavior in this area. Regardless of the normal cultural practice, six feet, or two meters, is currently considered to be a safe distance for socializing all over the world. I imagine that this imposition is felt more strongly among Mediterraneans and Latin Americans than among North Americans and Europeans.

This raises questions…

  • Will human connection, vital to mental and emotional health, begin to disintegrate? Will our children struggle with intimacy and touch?
  • Will the six foot rule linger with us after the pandemic is over, impacting peoples’ behavior for generations to come? Is this one of the ways cultures change?

What do you think?

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