By Jenny Everett, SELF magazine
When we think of personal space, we can't help but flash back to the episode of "Seinfeld" in which Elaine was dating Aaron, whom Jerry described as "a bit of a close talker." That's a serious understatement (click here for the HILARIOUS clip).
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We've all been in situations where our space has been invaded (drunk guy at the bar!) or we have invaded someone else's space (uh, oh ... shouldn't have hugged the boss!). Everyone's definition of their personal space is different, so you need to be a bit of a detective, sussing out clues.
"Our personal space is contained between an invisible boundary surrounding our bodies," says Sue Fox, author of Etiquette for Dummies and founder of Etiquette Survival. "When people invade our personal space, we may retreat or stand our ground. Age, gender and the relationship are all factors in defining how much space is allocated and what is appropriate."
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Here are Fox's answers to your most common personal space questions:
Is it OK to hug or kiss acquaintances?
According to Fox, there is generally no harm in this as long as you're in an appropriate environment and don't have any signs of being sick (yuck!). The key when initiating the hug or other physical contact is to be aware of your acquaintance's body language. If they step back or tense up, they might not be comfortable with the greeting. Make a mental note and next time you interact, give them more space and let them initiate the hug or kiss.
How about colleagues?
"In business situations in the U.S., body contact beyond a handshake is inappropriate, regardless of the relationship you have with an individual," says Fox. However, if you happen to socialize with a close colleague outside of work, and you are not in an intimate relationship, it is fine to hug or cheek-kiss when greeting or saying goodbye, as long as he or she is comfortable with the close contact (read those body language clues!).
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Am I spooning my hubby/partner to death?
"Unless partner has complained, no worries," says Fox. "But if you're concerned, why not ask them?" Of course, it's important for married couples -- or anyone in an intimate relationship or living together -- to respect one another's personal space and alone time. You know your guy pretty well at this point: If he's had a bad day and is in a foul mood or just isn't being receptive to your "spoon," back off (without being angry about it). Chances are, in a few minutes you'll feel him snuggle up next to you.
How far away from someone should you stand when talking?
"Americans stand about one to three feet from one another," says Fox. "We view this as our personal space, even if we never really think about it." So stay about that distance, and be aware that if someone steps or leans back, even slightly, you may be too close for their comfort level. Fox also notes that personal space varies significantly between cultures -- many stand much closer than Americans do when speaking. If you're traveling or have visitors from overseas, do some research about their customs and social protocols.
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Photo Credit: WWD