Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mix-Up Monday: Define Your "Bubble"

Personal Space - USA (lonerwolf.com)
Personal space is the natural amount of space between people when talking or standing in a group. Often times people will talk about their "bubble" or the space around them they need to feel comfortable. Each person is unique in how much space they need. Distance also depends on who the person is being spoken to/standing with (stranger, friend, lover) and what culture the person is from. On average, researchers say that people from crowded Eastern countries (e.g., Japan, China) feel more comfortable standing close to each other than people from more open-spaced Western cultures (e.g., USA, Australia).

Although Germany and the USA are both similar culturally Western countries, there is sometimes a noticeable difference between people's acceptable amount of personal space (or bubble size).

In everyday life, Germans and Americans seem to like the same amount of personal space. Some researchers say that Germans in business relations actually like about six inches more between them than Americans. She would argue that she has experienced the opposite, especially if in an educational setting with teachers or professors. She used to be bothered by how close people stood while talking to her when she first came to Germany, but now she does not really notice it. Perhaps that is because of where she is living now, she has gotten used to it, or really there is no big difference in spacing preferences.

We think everyone has had that awkward conversation with someone who stands too close. It typically goes something like this:

Person 1: Takes one step back
Person 2: Takes one step forward
Person 1 Takes two steps back
Person 2: Takes two steps forward
Person 1: Takes one step back and hits the wall - oh crap.
Person 2: Takes one step forward
Of course there is nothing wrong with being either person in this conversation (although if someone is trying to run away from you try to keep yourself from stepping closer!). The thing is people do not even realize what they are doing. They have been culturally trained that conversations should be done from a certain distance, a distance that might feel too close to the other person.

There is, however, one giant expectation to the similarities between Germans and Americans when it comes to person space. LINES!

Anyone who enjoys their personal space will notice the lack of if when standing in line in Germany. People stand extremely close to each other and often times their arms will be right up against your back. To her it feels like they are trying to push her to go faster, even though she is standing in line and has nowhere to go. She has never done it (although she has been very tempted to!) but she has heard of other Americans who tell the person behind them to go ahead because they cannot take someone right on their back. It really can drive you crazy!

She doesn't know if she will ever get used to it. One thing is for sure. She will make sure he is not a close line stander next time we are in the USA :). 

~He just wants to point out that he is not a crazy German who stands on top of others in line and that it drives him crazy too!~

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