Monday, August 19, 2013

Spatial awareness: an observation of personal space, or lack thereof.

I'm sitting in a Dunkin' Donuts, waiting for a bus, basking in the free a/c and the fact that I can charge my phone. 

There are empty tables everywhere. Of the 15 tables in the cafe, 3 are occupied. 

A man walks in, gets his donuts and drink, then picks a table. Right. Next to. Me. 

I reiterate. There are 12 empty tables. 6 are not near any of the other seated customers. 


In my marketing classes at Texas A&M, we talked about the "butt rule" for spacing. When people are shopping, they don't want others in a 3 foot radius of their butt. Personal space, yo! We also talked about how that compares to the "urinal rule," where it's considered awkward, uncomfortable, and even rude to stand directly next to another dude in the baño. (Back me up guys, cause as a chica, I've never experienced that.) Dudes are supposed to choose the urinal farthest away from any other occupied space. There's even an iPhone game to practice courteous bathroom spacing (yeah I've played. don't judge me. we all do crazy things in college). 

Both are important rules of spacing in western culture. Since living in Korea, I have learned that these precious principles of personal space just don't apply here. 

Say you're at an amphitheater waiting for a show to begin. For the sake of example, let's say that it's not crowded and you're early. You check out the scene, evaluate the already-seated audience full of strangers, then judge the distances between each group. The common next step for westerners would be to choose a seat that puts as much space, equidistantly, between your group and the next closest patrons. Space out the audience, give everyone ample elbow room. You want to be considerate. Don't invade anyone's (public) privacy and/or personal space. 

Personal experience in Korea has taught me that this method of operation is not common here. At all. 

Case in point: homeboy that is sitting directly next to me and my duffle bag in the coffee shop at the bus terminal. Heyyyy. You are awfully close. There were so many other seating options. 

So many. 

So of course you sit by me and my stuff. 

*beware the expat blogger. we are a sneaky bunch of stealth photographers when cultural observations need documenting. you've been warned*

(And, once you finish your donuts, you stare at me. Obnoxiously, obviously stare. For half an hour. I CAN SEE YOU IN MY PERIPHERAL VISION. Ugh the staring! But that's another post for another day...)


  1. I am looking foward to ur next post on Staring. I am so lucky that I could read ur blog although I dont understand 100%. As a Korean native, we dont even know what Personal space is. At least in my opinion(Typical Koreans) he didnt enter ur personal space. As long as we dont touch others, we dont think we bother someone's personal space. I think we should educate our students when they are young what Personal space u guys mean so that we dont bother forginer unintentionally

  2. Thanks! I'm so glad that you read my blog. I always look forward to your perspective! You're right! That's exactly it - in Korea, our concept of "personal space" doesn't really exist. For westerners, it's pretty much an "arm's length," or the distance where you can reach out and touch the other person. If you sit or stand next to a stranger within that distance, we think it's uncomfortable. It would be different if you were friends, though.

    Trust me, most of us who live here understand that *we* are the foreigners and this is not *our* culture. Most people try to be respectful of the culture we are living in. I don't want to offend you!
    There are just a lot of big differences that are worth pointing out, especially to show people back home. Sometimes things bother us, and other times things just make us laugh. Like I said, they're just cultural observations. That's part of the fun of living overseas! It's so different and it's a constant challenge!

    Please don't worry about bothering foreigners. We'll get over it! If you do go abroad, then you'll learn what I'm learning in reverse ;) Then I'd love to read YOUR blog!

  3. hahaha.. I was actually worried if I made u upset or sth. Cuz I tend to be little serious and too direct while I am talking about my own opinion. I am glad that you didnt get it in offensive way.
    So-called 'Culture differences' is my favorite topic actually. I am waiting for your next post on Staring as I said. and I hope you don't mind if I comment about it. A lot of my friends have been suffering from people's staring them. I told them why, which is only what I think, yet still they don't seem to fully understand what I said.