A Little Bit About…Personal Space

Personal Space is a funny concept isn’t it? It’s one of those unwritten rules in life. Were any of you ever taught it in a classroom, or sat down by your parents and told about it? I didn’t think so, because me neither. Yet somehow we grow up knowing what’s acceptable and what’s not when it comes to interacting or coming into physical contact with others.

Do you agree that a personal space slip-up can cause some of the most embarrassing and awkward moments? Let’s be honest, there’s nothing more cringe-worthy than relaxing a bit too much while getting your nails done and unknowingly holding the beautician’s hand. But our perspective on personal space can also cause a million other emotions – happiness from a hug, annoyance from someone hogging the armrest on a plane, or frustration when you want some me-time and people won’t leave you alone.  

I’ve lived in Spain for the past 3 years and I can confidently say that living abroad and submerging yourself into a different culture challenges your own concept of personal space more than you would imagine. As you may know, people in Spain, as is custom in many countries, often greet each other with a kiss on either cheek. In Scotland where I come from, aside from hugging your family and friends, we generally stick with a very non-invasive wave (if you’re lucky)! So for me, it definitely took me a minute to get used to meeting strangers and kissing each other on each cheek (and if like me at the beginning you are wondering if you have to greet your boss and your colleagues like that every single day when you go in to work, you will be glad to know, like me, you do not).

Now back when I first moved here, I thought that was one of the biggest challenges I would face when it came to personal space. But with the current self-isolation and lockdown situation, our concept of personal space is being challenged more than ever. In very, very extreme ways!

We’re used to going about our daily life, walking the streets without even thinking. Now we have to remain approximately 2m apart from anyone who doesn’t live in the same household as us.

We’re used to getting out of the house and spending time at work, or with friends and family to let loose. Now we have to stay in and see the same faces all day every day.

We’re used to seeing our work colleagues in suits and ties in meeting rooms. Now we’re seeing them wearing a t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms sitting at their kitchen tables via video conference.

I live alone, so suddenly I’m surrounded by nothing but my own space. Last week a package I had ordered prior to lockdown got delivered, and as per the no contact policy the delivery company has in place, the guy rang my flat buzzer from downstairs then sent the package up in the elevator by itself. Quite a humorous sight to see a little brown box staring up at me as the elevator doors opened.

But as scared or intimidated or alone as we might feel right now, staying home if you can is the best thing we can do to keep ourselves and others healthy. Even if that does mean not being able to go wherever we want with whoever we want, or having to queue up at the supermarket and stay 2m behind the person in front of us as if it’s a real life game of Monopoly and we’re just waiting to pass go,

We need to remember this is temporary. Just like those annoying roadworks on your way to work, or that bruise on your arm you want to go away, or crop tops being in fashion. Things WILL go back to normal, the only unknown is when.

So for those of us who are missing friends and family, just be thankful you have those people to visit once this is all over (and do a hell of a lot of video calls in the meantime).

For those who are going stir crazy seeing the same few faces every single day, try to appreciate the company you have and enjoy any flashing moments you do get by yourself, even if those are few and far between.

For those who are alone, stay in touch with people as much as you can and take comfort in thinking about all of the things you’ll do and the people you’ll meet once this is over (or do what I did and take a leaf out of Tom Hanks’ book in Castaway by making a household friend – my kitchen roll now has a drawn-on pair of eyes and a mouth, wears my spare pair of glasses and is called Roland. And no, I’m not joking. Call me temporarily insane if you want, but Roland is a GREAT listener).

Stay safe everyone!

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