I was talking with my students the other day about cultural differences and one student asked me if it was true that in NYC, if you reach out and touch someone on the street to get their attention, they get mad and yell at you. I wasn’t sure (does anyone from NYC know?), having only been there about five times and never touching anyone on the arm who wasn’t a relative or a close friend. But that brought up the topic of personal space and made me think of Margaret’s post about just that.
I explained to my students that in the U.S., one’s “personal bubble” is larger than in Chile, or I’d say Latin American in general. When talking, people stand farther apart. We don’t kiss each other on the cheek when greeting, and we feel uncomfortable when strangers enter the bubble. My students laughed at my description (probably in part because I use lots of funny hand gestures and looked like an idiot) but said they kind of understood. But really, no cheek kisses? Nope, no cheek kisses.
Then I realized how I’ve gotten used to being really close (sometimes smashed against if we’re talking about rush hour) to random strangers, whether on the metro, the micro, or walking down the ridiculously narrow sidewalks of Santiago Centro. Today on the hellish metro ride from Baquedano to Moneda at 6:30pm I used some guy practically as a handrail and he didn’t seem to mind. And I didn’t particularly mind the guy behind me who was giving me a bearhug.
That being said, I think my personal bubble was definitely invaded today, no matter what culture you’re from. I was walking down Bosque Norte after a private class, kind of spacing out and staring into space. Apparently a young Chilean man thought I was staring at him. So he raised his eyebrows at me, said “Hola linda” and then tried to kiss me smack on the mouth, but missed and hit my cheek. All this while we were both walking. I kind of yelped and jumped to the side as the young man just laughed and continued on his way.