Most social situations North Americans require a comfort zone of six to eight square feet per person, and any violation of that buffer can trigger a reaction (Bowen). “People use avoidance responses,” says Robert Sommer, a psychologist at the University of California-Davis and author of the book Personal Space (qtd. in Bowen). But where does the standard of personal space come from? According to Sommer, “a comfort distance for conversation varies from culture to culture.” Because Mediterranean and Asian countries are more densely populated, their personal space zones are much closer to the body than those of North Americans and Northern Europeans (qtd. in Bowen). The westerns are certainly planning on keeping this standard in the future. In fact, the world’s population is increasing at an incredible rate. Even the country offers its citizens plenty of spaces everywhere; they have to learn to make compromises on their personal space not only to accept the inevitable reality but also for the benefit of this compromise. First of all, urban Americans should make compromises on personal space when they are using public transportations. The New York City subway system is a really great representative example of personal space; the total number of urban citizens is more than 18 million, thus making the subway system extremely crowded every day. But even during the rush hours, the passengers are still careful about their distance with the others. If one person has a minor physical contact with someone and doesn’t express the apology, the other person will raise their voice instantly and say “excuse me” and certainly feels offended. This is totally unnecessary, especially during the rush hours, because some people might be late for work or school already, and someone might be thinking about today’s schedule. The rest of them are doing things that indeed catch their attention. Under such circumstances, it’s highly possible for passengers to have minor physical contact with others out of negligence they don’t notice. On the other hand, there is Shanghai, the second largest city in China with more than 20 million residents and most of them use the subway for daily transportation. It’s even more crowded compared to the New York City subway. So close to each other with their shoulders and backs passengers may nudge 2 or 3 persons at the same time, and they have been totally adapted to this situation without any discomfort. The Tokyo subway system passengers have even less personal space during the rush hours. The metro staff will push the passengers back so that more people will have the opportunity to get in the train in the morning. What are the passengers’ reactions? They don’t feel offended at all. They are actually grateful because all of them can get to work on time, and their personal sacrifice is helping many people. Their joint efforts make the subway system much more efficient and indeed prevent lots of unpleasant arguments. “When they’re moving, they tend to keep a distance of three or four steps so as not to violate each other’s personal space.” said Larry Gould, director of operations analysis at New York City Transit (qtd. in Gardy). But the sheer density of the population is giving the Chinese a very different sense of personal space (Toy, 2). “Personal spaces overlap,” said Stuart Strother, an economist who has lived in China and who wrote a travel guide, “Living Abroad in China”. “It’s not that you don’t have any personal space, but I may have to share your space,” he said. Perhaps as a consequence, Strother said, pointing at and touching people, even total strangers, is not considered rude (Toy). There’s also another interesting phenomenon. You will never see two strangers sitting together in the New York City subway if there’s empty space somewhere else. The definition for “empty” means nobody is sitting next to...
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