Tiny Spaces and Angry People

Have you ever gotten agitated because someone invaded your personal space bubble?  Did you ever have an acquaintance that constantly got in your face to talk, even as you continually backed up to create distance?  I feel certain you have experience one or both of these.  We all possess personal space zones, and human beings also have a lot of rituals that they go through to maintain them.  Our space needs differ based on our culture and whether or not we were raised in a crowded city or in the country (folks from the country tend to like more space).  Here in the U.S., the general rules are:

  • Intimate Zone—18 inches and in from the front.  (for close friends, family, significant others—think emotional bond)
  • Personal Zone—30 inches to 4 feet (friends, co-workers, etc.)
  • Social Zone—4 to 12 feet away (people we don’t know very well)
  • Public Zone—12 feet and beyond (strangers, public speaking)

This, of course, does not take into account new transplants from other countries, as they tend to adhere to the cultural norms from their home country.  Hence the occasional guy or gal that hovers like a cloak in the grocery store line, because that is precisely what he or she is accustomed to!

I was once told by an instructor that our personal space is more of an oval; we seem to be more comfortable with people flanking us at closer range.  I have also read that the space we require behind us can be double of that in front.  I find it interesting that public transportation violates most, if not all of the spatial relationship “rules” in American culture (is this why we don’t embrace it as much as other countries do?)  Is this why some folks lose their ever-living minds when they travel this way?  Most of us cope with the violation through defensive displays of body language:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Folding arms and crossing legs (to close ourselves off)
  • Remaining silent
  • Immersing ourselves in reading material and/or other distractions

There is a strong correlation between over-crowding and violent crime, so it seems like a logical leap to me that some people just get more agitated while riding in a bus or plane and therefore have tremendous potential to explode at people and situations.  Then some of us unwittingly poke the bear, failing to take note of their agitation and/or defensive body language.  It seems logical to make another leap and assume that some people cope with the space violations by starting conversations, in attempt to ease the burden of someone invading their bubble.  Of course, there’s always the obvious choice that there are those among us who are just annoying jerks.  Nevertheless, I have heard many a tale over the years of bizarre behavior aboard all manner of people-movers, and I have to wonder if there are other underlying factors at work, other than insanity or being terminally ill-natured.  Either way, it is probably best not to engage them if you can help it, and don’t allow them to get you riled—there is nothing quite like LOTS of angry packed liked sardines in a tiny space.

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