Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Personal Space...What A Concept!

The whole idea of personal space seems lost on the average Swede. In queues that stand right up behind you, their hot breath on your neck and their conversations in your ear. Walking behind you they walk right on your heels never quite walking around you but right on top of you. Stopping to read a sign or a menu, they'll stealthy stand right behind you, closer than your shadow. You will never hear them come up but if you quickly turn around you will find yourself nose to nose and you'll wonder "why, why, why are you standing so close to me".

In check out lines, where you bag your own groceries, they'll hastily start throwing their groceries in with yours. You'll stand there side by side picking your groceries out of a big pile of yours and theirs. The other day I was filling a bag with potatoes. There were five large bins filled with potatoes. A man came over, ignored the four other empty bins, and stood right with me picking through the same bin. Weird. I wondered did he think I somehow had the better bin?

What makes it even more unusual is this is pretty much a society where there is no real sense of urgency. I'd expect it in the hustle and bustle of achievement driven and space deprived Tokyo or Hong Kong. Let's face it, this is a place where you may not get a reply back to an email for three weeks. Nothing can't wait and it often does.

I wonder if it is some latent side effect of collectivist type societies? Is personal space and the idea that we own the 12 inches of space surrounding us an American conception? The difference between an individualistic culture and a collectivist mindset? Hmmm, food for thought.

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