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Personal Space

Getting too close to some people can offend them if they are not comfortable with tight personal space. Have you ever walked up to someone and had them back away from you? Perhaps their culture doesn’t like having people that close to them, while your culture likes to get up close and personal. So there is a feeling of conflict, and neither of you may be consciously aware that conversational distance or personal space is an issue.

Most Americans have a personal space of 18 inches to three feet; in a business setting, they don’t like having others closer than a couple of feet. With strangers, Americans tend to want even more distance. They try to leave an empty seat between them and a stranger if at all possible; they dislike the center seat on airplanes, buses, and cars. They become uncomfortable if an elevator gets too crowded. What Americans don’t realize is that, in those cultures in which physical closeness is more comfortable, it can be considered an insult to stand so far away and to leave that seat empty.


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