Archive for July, 2009

Personal space

Standing in front of a gas station case of cold drinks, I was absentmindedly staring at all the choices, waiting for Liz and Leo to come out of the restrooms. There was a good five feet of space between me and the glass door.

Another driver walked up, gave me a hurried glance while muttering ‘Excuse me,’ and scurried in between me and the drinks, trying his best not to obstruct my gaze for any more time than absolutely necessary.

Two thoughts occurred to me. A: I wasn’t really interested in buying anything anyway. B: Why would someone apologize for walking by me in such a broad, clear aisle at the store?

It hit me that my sense of personal space has shrunk considerably over the past year. Americans like space. Chinese don’t ever count on it. Trying to walk through a Chinese supermarket aisle is a lot like trying to walk through a row of occupied seats at the movie theater. People will brazenly hold their ground, not out of any sense of self righteousness, but simply because there’s seldom any extra room to maneuver. China is a crowded place. Really.

For instance, here’s what a normal sidewalk looks like:

The Sidewalk

Note that 1: People are everywhere. 2: Bikes are everywhere. 3. If trees are planted right in the middle of the sidewalk, this isn’t considered a problem. 4. A shortcut is to walk in the street.

So if I happen to be a little too close to your personal space on our next visit, don’t think I’m weird. It’s just cultural.

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