Don’t Stand So…

Don’t stand so close to me… Personal space differs from country to country. In the United States we tend to prefer a large amount of space between us and strangers. In general the distance is an arm’s length or more (see photo of grocery shoppers in New York).

When we lived in Chile, we were surprised at how packed together the people there would stand in lines for the ATM. It was far less than an arm’s length and a half, or a meter, to which I was accustomed. If I were not pressed to the person in front of me, someone would cut in line where I “left space.” Most often it was an older woman. Once la Señora was there, she would not budge. I’d complain to her in Spanish that I was in line and she’d shrug and say she couldn’t tell. La Señora was there for the duration. Lesson learned. After that, I preferred the ATMs that were behind a locked door I’d open with my card, because they were less crowded. Standing that close to strangers on the street had felt like a pickpocket’s dream to me.

In restaurants around Santiago, my husband and I noticed the spaces between mesas were far smaller than we were used to in Texas. The separation was half a meter, rather than one meter between us and the adjacent tables. Wisely, the Chilenos could fit in twice as many patrons that way. We found the Santiago food was so great (fresh fish!) we didn’t mind sitting that close. Although, getting in and out of our seats was difficult  without bumping the tables around us. Evan and I would say a lot of “Con su permiso” (With your permission) and “Perdóneme” (Forgive me) and suck in our bellies so not to tip over the glassware of surrounding patrons.

Personal space was closer with friends too. We learned that Chilean friends kiss each other once on the cheek as a greeting, called el beso. They lean in, holding your arm in a hug and brush their cheek with yours and make a kissing sound while you do likewise. This begins and ends every encounter with a friend there. In the US, some friends hug, but we rarely kiss. This type of affection less commonly crosses gender lines for friends in the United States, but often does in Latin America. In Chile, el beso was between a man and a woman or two women friends. Two men would hug one another heartily. I liked the warmth and affection the kiss and embrace brought our interactions. Back in US culture, we miss these daily gestures. Maybe we’ll start a new trend in Madison.

How do you greet your friends? Do you live in a country with el beso?

When you travel outside your home country what is the biggest difference in personal space?

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco! Olé! -Rebecca


Grocery Shoppers at Whole Foods, NYC  Photo Credit: David Shankbone
Rebecca Cuningham

10 thoughts on “Don’t Stand So…

  1. I’m a known hugger. I think there are plenty of people in the world who are never touched, especially the elderly.
    I’m making it my business to change

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Issues of ‘personal space’ in public situations are some of the biggest challenges I’ve faced living on four continents. I could totally understand touching if on a crowded bus or subway, but I was never comfortable with it in supermarket lines or other similar situations. I do like the natural warmth of greetings in Latin America though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, standing in lines can be challenging when I’m used to an arms length distance, and it’s a hand width instead! The warm greetings in Latin America are wonderful. Thanks for your comments, Henry. : )


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