Personal space - how big is your bubble?

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by badgrammar, Apr 29, 2006.

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  1. This just came up in another thread, thought it might be interesting. When you talk with someone, how physically close do you get to them? I have noticed that in certain cultures, people will get so close to me when talking, that I start backing up, in an effort to maintain a distance I find comfortable.

    I figure my normal comfort zone for casual conversation is between 12 and 24 inches (maybe about 30 to 60cm), depending on how well I know the person and the situation.

    Is it a function of culture? How big is your bubble? Do you think an American's bubble bigger than a Greek's bubble, for example? Do people from one country always seem to invade your bubble, or, do you feel people from another country seem cold because they back away from you (perhaps in order to get you out of their bubble)? ANy thoughts are welcome...
  2. danielfranco

    danielfranco Senior Member

    I think that it is a cultural convention, about how close you can get to a person without it being considered an unwelcomed intrusion of their personal space, but also it has to be a personal choice, I believe. For instance, when I was a child in Mexico people got pretty close to each other for casual conversation (about a foot, or two feet away, as badgrammar prefers), which I think is close enough to actually reach out and lay your hands on the other person.
    But as for my personal taste, even if everyone else felt comfortable at this distance, I have always preferred a larger space between the other person and I. Say, maybe starting at three feet...
    Maybe I'm just weird that way. :eek:
  3. Yes, actually, I take back what I said about 12-24 inches, I'd say 2 to 3 feet sounds good. 12 inches might be ok if in a noisy place, but it is close enough to smell the person, which seems pretty intimate to me. I have noticed that people from Mexico tend to get a little closer - but that may also be people of a 40+ generation, maybe that has changed.
  4. maxiogee Banned

    On a training course I am undertaking at the moment we covered this recently. It was discovered that age and gender both play a part in how close we allow others to get and still feel comfortable. The reason why they were coming close also played a part - if it was felt that the approach was friendly they were allowed closer, but if there was an imbalance of power the distance increased. The acceptable distance between two women tended to be shorter than that between two men, on average.
  5. gato2

    gato2 Senior Member

    España, español
    A mi me gusta una distancia razonablemente grande. Si alguien se acerca demasiado siento como si me estuviera quitando el aire.
  6. Suane

    Suane Senior Member

    I don't like, when people go closer to me when talking. Actually, I hate it, so I tend to step aside.(?) I prefer about 0.7-1 m. My English lector once said that English people seem to prefer bigger distance.
  7. ireney

    ireney Modistra

    Greek Greece Mod of Greek, CC and CD
    The Greek bubble is really, really small :)

    I am lousy when it comes to measuring distances but coming as close as a semi-stretched arm is considered perfectly fine.

    Mind you, not all Greeks have i.e. my best friends almost irresistible urge to actually touch now and again her friends while talking (I for one am perfectly aware they are real without need of a more physical confirmation) but her habbit is considered rare but quite acceptable.
  8. alpago New Member

    Türkçe, Türkiye;Turkish,Turkey;Turco,Turquia;Turc,Turquie.
    In Turkey we used to hug when we met,but of course it depends on how well you know that person. if you are in a formal situation you supposed to be at least one feet away. but if you are close friends first you hug and then kiss each other from cheeks you go on talking in a distance of 30cm.
    Briefly, we love being close while talking..
  9. KateNicole Senior Member

    Miami, Florida
    English (USA)
    I honestly don't care how close people get to me unless I feel like they are hitting on me. If a man is hitting on me and I feel like he gets a little closer to my face with each word, it can make me feel super uncomfortable. In general converation though, space isn't really an issue for me. I know Americans are said to have a greater need for personal space. I think out of habit we leave a greater distance than most people, yet at the same time, I don't think that it bothers us all that much if people from other cultures (or fellow Americans) come closer than usual to us when talking.
  10. AmoL'italiano

    AmoL'italiano Senior Member

    I agree with Kate on that one. Unless I don't really like the person, or they're scary in some way- I don't care how close they are to me. Now... if they're complete strangers and they have an arm around my shoulder, I'll get creeped... but otherwise, I'd be comfortable at any distance.

    I also would note theat distance between speakers differs if you are standing or sitting. I note that while standing theres about an arm's length between speakers, but sitting- they can be right up against eachother perfectly fine, especially if they're friends.

  11. hohodicestu

    hohodicestu Senior Member

    Mexico - Spanish
    Hi everybody,

    We know that every country has its own cultural behavior. For example, I might be wrong, but I've noticed that the Asian people stay far while talking to each other. On the other hand, Americans would stay a little bit closer. Have you guys experienced these kind of behavior?

    Thanks :)
  12. mytwolangs Senior Member

    English United States
    In america, about an arms reach is the closest, unless they people are arguing seriously or if they are wanting to date... then the distance is less.
    In some countries, the "bubble" is as little as a few inches. I always wondered how they showed emotion if they are already THAT close
  13. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    I agree with mytwolangs, in the U.S.* we tend to be a bit protective of our personal space, especially when dealing business and/or greeting strangers. Of course, a lot can be said for social context, too.

    I am not a particularly "affectionate" person in general. (Exceptions for my husband, close friends, family, etc.), as such, I am rather taken aback when someone approaches me for a hug, or other form of "touch" outside of a handshake, especially if I don't know them.

    In our business dealings, a firm, stout handshake is generally appropriate. Rarely do you see business colleagues touching each other. From time to time men may, if they are close acquaintances, pat each other on the back.

    The "shoulder rub" our President gave the female Chancellor of Germany was wholly unacceptable on many counts. Not only was that a professional environment, but the entire incident reeked of sexism and a "good ole boy" sense of jocularity which was not appropriate in that context.

    As I've mentioned in similar threads, when I lived in France it took me a while to get used to giving "bisous." When I moved back to the U.S., I missed the practice. I still have close friends I hug whenever we greet. That, I suppose, is the U.S. version of "bisous," but it is only typically exchanged among close friends, not people you are just meeting.

    *Remember, "America" emcompasses Canada, Mexico and South American countries)
  14. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod (AL mod)

    French (lower Normandy)
    My bubble is very very large and thick.
    But most of the time in France, it's OK except with some old people who like to touch you (as if they wanted to prevent you from falling asleep while they speak :D ).
    I suppose people from the "South" like to use their hands and touch you but I don't know if they have their faces right in front of you. I can understand that, if you are passionate about something.
    Conversely I met a Russian girl who talked very very close to my face (far too close for me), which almost obliged me to squint, but she didn't really touch me. Why do you need to be so close to someone to talk to that person? And what if I kept on eating garlic :D (maybe that's why I should do actually)?

    As for kisses and hugs, I don't like kisses but I prefer them to hugs where more of your body is in contact with the other person.
  15. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo moderator

    American English
    I searched for "personal space" on the internet and found lots of information about proxemics, including general information in wikipedia.

    I find the opposite of your observations is true -- Americans tend to like more personal space than other cultures. In my own experience, I've noticed that both Japanese and Mexicans tend to stand closer to me than I am comfortable.

    That discomfort can be a good thing, though, because it makes one aware of one's own biases (which are usually unconscious). Leaving one's comfort zone is the best way to learn and grow. :)
  16. hohodicestu

    hohodicestu Senior Member

    Mexico - Spanish

    Thank you very much fenixpollo for your help. I was confused and did not know that the distance during a conversation was so important and significant.
  17. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    I have lived in various parts of Australia and have noticed this change of personal space. The most obvious way to observe this is to watch two people who meet and shake hands.
    City dwellers come in very close standing upright and will often use both hands by using the right hand to shake the other person's hand and the left hand is used around the back in a kind of hug.
    Suburbanites tend to shake hands with the right hand and cover that grip with the left hand.
    Townies will stand apart and ensure that only the right hands touch.
    Bushies will stand as far apart as possible and lean forward to shake hands.

    As the distance between the two increases so the duration of the shake reduces.

    It would appear that those who live in high density areas are more comfortable with physical closeness.

    Too droll.
  18. Etcetera

    Etcetera Senior Member

    St Petersburg, Russia
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    It's a well-known fact, actually. :)
    We talked a lot about it during our Psycholinguistic classes. What's interesting, personal space may differ a lot in various regions of one and the same country. For example, there's only 625 kilometres between St. Petersburg and Moscow (yeah, that's not too much, for Russia :)), but it's acknowledged that normal distance during a conversation is about 40 centimetres for Muscovites and more than 80 centimetres for the Petersburgers.
  19. maxiogee Banned

    My bubble expands and contracts depending (a) on my mood, and (b) the people I meet. There appears to be no defined sliding-scale size of bubble for strangers/friends/colleagues/family - it seems to depend on the apparent friendliness of the person I'm in contact with.
  20. StefKE

    StefKE Senior Member

    French - Belgium
    I think it depends on the sitation. If it is a noisy or little place (like the tube, or a disco I can talk nearly in my neighbour's ear. In a normal space I stand about a foot (not the measure but one foot) from the person I talk to. If it is a friend or a relative, I can go nearer. If it is a teacher or the boss I stand further (about 2-3 feet (once more I speak about a normal feet not the measure)). If I don't want to be eavesdropped I go very close to the person....
  21. grego47 Senior Member

    Sevilla España
    USA English
    I live in Spain and culturally people usually get much closer than Americans or Britons.
  22. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    G'day StefKe
    I am sorry to say that I am missing the meaning here.
    Could you please say this for me in a different way?

  23. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    In my country, physical contact does have the meaning, so normally, people do not use it so easily. Therefore, the distance between two people when talking can tell you about the grade and nature of their relationship, if it is business or personal, if they know each other or not, if they like each other or not, etc. depending on the distance they maintain during the conversation.

    We do not kiss each other when we are introduced for the first time. Never. We just shake hands, and at the distance of two stretched arms. I really like my bubble, and it is really big. We kiss each other if we don't see each other for a long time, and only among friends (very close ones) and family. The smaller the distance between two people, the more they like each other. for example, just looking at a couple and the distance they maintain, you can tell if he likes her, or she likes him, and if the one who tires to get closer has any chance or not.
    When I came to Spain, I had a little bit of problems with this, not only with kissing (they kiss each other when introduced for the first time), but also with my "personal bubble" I saw many times dangerously invaded.
    For example, I had problems with my boss (Uruguayan guy but with strong Spanish culture influence), who seems to consider completely ok if he comes to my computer and starts to work on it with me still sitting on the chair in front of the very same computer! I hate that, and at first I didn't know what to do, but then I started to push away my chair, to get up and to offer him a chair to sit, so I think he finally got the point!:D

    Let's say that I don't feel comfortable if I feel the smell of the breath of the other person, so it must me a distance of at least 80cm to 1m.

    EDIT: I forgot.... Who are Bushies?
  24. danielfranco

    danielfranco Senior Member

    It seems to me someone has either rather tiny feet or has bigfoot-size loafers !! ;)
  25. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo moderator

    American English
    In the US, supporters of GW Bush. In Australia, people who live in "the bush", i.e., very rural or wilderness areas.
  26. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    Thanks, Fenix :)

    Since .,, is from Australia, then ti would be the second one....:)
  27. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    G'day fenix
    You are way too quick for me and you are absolutely correct.

    DAmn I hadn't thought that dubya supporters are bushies.

    Yes Natassia ti certainly would be the second noe:)
    Loving words and all their meanings.
  28. Bettie Senior Member

    United States.
    For me it really depends how much I know a person and if I like him or her or not.

    I remember a girl in College who used to get too close, so we moved all over the place, I trying to be confortable and she trying to be closer, later a mutual friend told me that that girl needed glasses but didn't like to use them.
  29. Seana

    Seana Senior Member

    I hate the situation when someone approaches too much close to me -even if it is closest friend. I like to have the invisible space, little alike the horses which like some distance too. I have never thought how many centimetres it is but I think I need at least 50-60 cm to feel comfortable.
  30. moura

    moura Senior Member

    Portuguese Portugal
    I usually like space around me, but 30 cm to half a metter around is quite enough. There are, though, those people who talk with the arms - I know one or two - and keep giving little taps in their interlocutor's arms. When I am with these persons, I prudently make a free zone of one meter or so.

    Another situation which is exasperating is that of a queue, where some people almost jump to our backs, and the more we move forwards, the more they move too...

    I didn't know that about horses. How interesting! They are one of my favourite animals. So that's probably the reason they run away with their heads when trying to caresse (cuddle?) them.
  31. Rozax

    Rozax Senior Member

    English - USA
    With most people, I like to keep them at about half my arm's length. But with my friends, my bubble is your bubble :)
  32. southerngal Senior Member

    American English
    I think it's helpful to know that different cultures have different distances that are considered as being in an individual's comfortable range. When someone gets too close to our own comfort level, we may mistake that as a very aggressive gesture. Likewise, if someone insists on being much farther, we may tend to think the person is being aloof or uninterested when, in fact, the person is doing what is natural in his or her own culture.
  33. ozon

    ozon Member

    catalan catalunya
    I have been in Africa and the people use to guive you the hand but htey dont leaving it until one or two minutes later, they starting a kind of ritual round of answers from "how is your wife?" to "wer you working?"
    Also in Spain we use to hit the friens on the sholder mor or less hard without traying to guive pain but noise, I think is something that people from other countryes somtimes interpreting like hostility.
  34. pacificblue Member

    Hibiscus Coast, New Zealand
    New Zealand (English)
    I'm the sort of person that needs personal contact so my bubble is usually pretty small with my friends ... when it comes to people that aren't so close to me I prefer a good foot or two between us.

    I have noticed though that older people don't seem to have a bubble at all (I'm not sure if that is because they can't see or hear as well as younger people) but at work they come right up beside me and I can feel them almost breathing on me and that creeps me out a little. I try & move away a wee bit without them noticing & they just follow me ... :rolleyes:
  35. Seana

    Seana Senior Member

    Yes, the queue ...I know such situation and to be honest it doesn't depend neither on age nor gender.

    Perhaps it is little off topic but look - dogs like close phisical contact, cats and horses don't. I know it beacause I have all of them.
    These features have probably the close relations with their life in the nature. Horse likes to feel the open space in order can fast running in case of a risk its life, a fast escape is an only and best weapon against of danger.
    Dogs like sleeping snuggled but cats...they are simply total individualists.
  36. Lavinia.dNP

    Lavinia.dNP Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Sicilian with Italian-French mothertongue
    I don't like the french "bisous", because I think it looks a bit stupid this gesture of touching cheek against cheek while making a kissing sound with the mouth. I would prefer an american hug.
    Especially in Paris where you have to make 4 bisous to each person when you arrive and when you leave : it looks quite time consuming!
  37. moura

    moura Senior Member

    Portuguese Portugal
  38. Lavinia.dNP

    Lavinia.dNP Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Sicilian with Italian-French mothertongue
    I have the solution for you : wear a backpack : it will naturally keep the distance between you and wh'o's behind, but never put your wallet of phone in it (unless the bag has the "secret pocket" against the back (example : Samsonite mod. "Sahora"), otherwise the person behind you might take advantage of the situation.
  39. moura

    moura Senior Member

    Portuguese Portugal
    Thanks for the suggestion Lavinia, I'll bear it in mind.:)

    It is funny yr description of the kisses ritual. In Portugal is the same: two kisses, but just touching faces and making the sound with lips. And some people even deslike when there is someone trying to give the real kiss in the face. I think this ritual is becoming very similar to little ants running in the floor - just touching and passing by.
  40. maxiogee Banned

    Aaah kisses! I loathe the kisses ecpected by, and given by, my female cousins. The notion that putting our cheeks together (lips never meet flesh in these kisses!) and saying "Mwaaah" whilst giving/receiving a half-hearted hug turns me off totally.
    If I want to kiss someone they get a kiss (puckered lips and all!) on the cheek with no simulated sound effects.

    As for the queue — my personal space is only invaded when the person/people are face-to-face with me. This may have something to do with a childhood spent in confined spaces watching rugby matches with hordes of other people. If everyone is facing the same way it doesn't bother me how close people are. As long as no-one is close enough to filch my wallet in the throng I've no problem. But, were those around me to all turn and face me I'd be most uncomfortable.
  41. moura

    moura Senior Member

    Portuguese Portugal
    Another ridiculous habit in Portugal - I don't know if this is off the topic - is some people we just call "aunties" ("tias", "queques"), very snobish, or most times pretending they are, full of bracelets and fashionable clothes, who have decided it is very distintive to give just a kiss (since ever the tradition is 2 kisses).

    If "common" people are not aware of that, they stay in an unconfortable position waiting with the face for the second inexistent kiss or with their lips ready, while the "auntie" moves away.

    (Maxiogee, I think you would be the terror of these "aunties" :D)
  42. Lavinia.dNP

    Lavinia.dNP Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Sicilian with Italian-French mothertongue
    I love your description of the "Mwaah" phenomenon.

    In France and Italy it's even worse because except for the cheeks there is no othe contact, not even a hug.

    I think that you'd go berserk in France where there are 4 "Mwaahs" for each person when you arrive and 4 "Mwaahs" for each person when you leave!
  43. maxiogee Banned

    Small boys know how to handle "aunties" like those.
    You wait until the auntie has lowered her face to almost within range and then you wipe your nose on your sleeve whilst making a loud sniffing sound! :D

    We Irish didn't have that sort of "auntie" but many kids grew up referring to the friends of the parents as "Auntie X" and "Uncle Y", and vaguely knowing that they weren't real aunts and uncles. This practice is dying out is seems as children today don't seem to use titles for anyone - their aunts are "Mary" and their uncles are "John" - even priests introduce themselves to school classes saying, "Hello children, I'm Peter, I'm the local priest."
    My son attended a school run by priests which I had attended. in my day we were vaguely aware of the first names of some of the priests, but they were all referred to by their surname —> "Fr Maxiogee", nowadays they are all "Fr Tony" etc.
    Titles seem to be fading from all walks of life (at least here in Ireland). When I was a child the family doctor would never have addressed my mother or father by their first name, it would always have been Mrs Maxiogee or Mr Maxiogee. Nowadays it is rare to be called Mr or "sir" by anyone in the health service.
    I think this alleged 'imtimacy' has contributed to some people's sense of a shrinking of personal space.
  44. french4beth

    french4beth Senior Member

    Then there's the US 'air kiss' where no physical contact is even made! It's a superficial gesture, any way, so no surprise there's no physical contact (no emotional content, either).

    I prefer 1-2 feet, depending on whether I like the person or not - I really don't like anyone to touch me if I don't like them. Pet peeve - people touching my belly when I was pregnant! I abhorred this! What, were they rubbing my belly for luck, like the Buddha-tiki drinks in Chinese restaurants? Puh-lease! Even worse, once the kids were born, having strangers approach my infant... euhh!

    I'm fascinated by elevator etiquette - in my multi-storied office building, everyone is always equidistant (except at the end of the day). If there are four people on the elevator, they always gravitate to the four corners of the elevator - if there are three on board, one goes to the back left corner, one goes to the middle of the back wall, one goes to the back right corner... very interesting! And if someone doesn't move to the corresponding position, it just feels awkward!
  45. Lavinia.dNP

    Lavinia.dNP Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Sicilian with Italian-French mothertongue
    Well, the elevator etiquette is quite true, but not always : I always tend to move in order to be equidistant from everybody (which in my case means as far as I can from anybody), but very often people don't do it and it happened that I found myself squeezed in the bottom of the elevator while there was a lot of space in the front. But I didn't want to seem rude by asking the persons to move a bit further because they could have interpreted it like "you stink, move away"
  46. french4beth

    french4beth Senior Member

    I remember someone saying "there's no back door" when an elevator was completely packed! ;)
    I tend to stake out my territory - I'll hold my pocket-book in front of me, or place my tote next to my feet so people don't get too close.
    In the workplace, I've had a few creepy co-workers who insisted on trying (unsuccessfully) to give me neck rubs (à la George Bush) - after I ran over their feet with my chair, they usually got the hint! :D However, one gobshite/wally/etc. didn't get the message, so I 'accidentally' turned around extremely quickly, my elbow outstretched, and 'accidentally' elbowed him in the groin. He finally got the message! :rolleyes:
  47. maxiogee Banned

    Surely the concept of personal space in a lift (elevator) is a bit ridiculous.
    Those on board, and those wishing to board, all desire to get to their destination floor as quickly as possible. Packing the most people in achieves the "greatest good" for the "greatest number"
    And anyway, even in the slowest moving lift in the tallest of buildings, how long is one in there? A few minutes?
  48. StefKE

    StefKE Senior Member

    French - Belgium
    Erm, I agree it is not very clear. The matter is that I didn't know how to say this and as I didn't feel like looking in my dictionnary, I took the first word that came to my mind. ... I actually meant one STEP! :eek: I hope it is clearer know... If not, ask me once again.

    I beg you to excuse me for my bad English :$
  49. Confused Linguist Senior Member

    English & Bengali
    My comfort zone for casual conversation is 3-4 feet for casual acquaintances and 2-3 feet for close relatives and friends.
  50. I am a very affectionate person so, if you know me, COME SHARE MY BUBBLE. This invitation is extended to males only - I don't feel comfortable being "up close and personal" with females. I will always respect your own bubble limits.

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