Sunday, November 26, 2006

My Space

The American way seems to be as the old song says, "Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, don't fence me in." We want our personal space.

There is an interesting article about the study of personal space or proxemics as the study of personal space is termed in the New York Times article In Certain Circles, Two is a Crowd by Stephanie Rosenbloom. As a culture Americans seem to need more personal space than other cultures. We don't liked to be touched and if we are in crowded situations, we tend not to make eye contact. We want houses big enough so that we can have personal private space. And this need for personal space extends to public spaces too.

The requirements for personal space is different in Mexico. Mexicans don't need as much personal space. I'm still adjusting to less personal space in public spaces.

The one that bothers me the most is in shopping. Aisles are small...make that tiny. Just big enough most of the time for two people to pass. And if you have stopped to pick out tomatoes and two people pass behind you, everyone will be touching. Or someone may reach over you or around you to pick out their tomatoes. At first I could barely stand to stay in the Ramirez Mercado long enough to shop. I felt.....well, I'm not sure what I felt, except I just had to get out of there. Now I can shop and tolerate being touched and reached around and over but I still try of maintain some sliver of space and there is no way I can reach over or around someone else who is picking out tomatoes. Even in the "grocery stores" the aisles are small like at Bonanza, where the space is so small there isn't any possibility of using a grocery cart and even the small baskets have to be carried in front of you so that you can pass another person. If there is any room it seems to be a signal to put up some additional display that narrows the space down. If Ned and I are shopping together, he will stay outside at Bonanza and hold packages because it is such a tight squeeze through the aisles. While I usually don't shop with a list, I do at Bonanza because there is no browsing the aisles and checking on merchandise. Reading labels? Forget about it. Just get the things on the list and get out. Maybe that is why the gringos like to go to places like WalMart or Costco where the aisle space sizes are similar to those spaces in the USA.

Another place where my personal space feels invaded is in a bank. Once you finally get to sit down with a banker, it isn't unusual at all for a Mexican to come to the banker to ask a question or maybe even sit down beside you. Maybe all you are doing is asking a question about something like doing a wire transfer but this seems like such an invasion of privacy.

There isn't any question that we want more space in our homes. Back in the USA, we have always lived in a single family home with a yard. Actual open space between our house and the next house. I realize that many people in the USA live in condos, townhomes and apartments but up until now that hasn't been our choice. We wanted privacy. Yet here we are in Mexico, happy as can be in a small house smack up against the house next door, right on the street. We know what our neighbors up and down the street are doing and they know what we are doing. Still what we consider our "small" house is a mansion to some on our street. I don't know how some of these extended families live in the tiny spaces that they live in. How do all those people get by with one bathroom?

Having less house space, less privacy and less personal space hasn't been as hard an adjustment as I thought it would be. I love living in the Mexican culture so much I'm willing to give up some of my American space concepts in order to be a part of San Miguel de Allende.


Anonymous said...

GREAT article that. I am in TOTAL agreement in that we experience all you describe and more - the narrow streets as example ;-)

Rubbing elbows with our Mexican friends and neighbors is simply part of the process - thanks for a terrific reminder ;-)

Juan Calypso

Heather said...

Great post! I've often thought about the American need for lots of personal space. At work, I've learned not to be offended with some of the employees that are originally from different countries when they walk very close to go around or pass by you without an "Excuse me" as I'm used to. I work in the US, but we have a lot of employees from India and China, both countries where I am sure personal space is close to non-existant.