Wellness: A Plea For Personal Space

February 18 2013, 1:30 PM

Some people call me a germaphobe. I never touch the poles or handholds on the 16th Street FREE MallRide. I almost always shoulder public doorways open instead of gripping the handles. Sometimes getting on a shared cardio machine at the gym grosses me out. And if someone coughs or sneezes in front of me on the sidewalk, I’ve been known to hold my breath until I pass them so I don’t inhale whatever it is they spewed out into the air. Yep, really.

All of which leads to my latest grumble: invasion of personal space.

This is on my mind because I returned recently from traveling in southeast Asia—a part of the world where the concept of personal space is largely nonexistent. It’s a cultural thing: more people in smaller spaces, more family-centric, communal living, less emphasis on individualistic demeanors, yadda yadda. No one thinks twice about it. And I got over it. In Vietnam, I sat back and watched while our restaurant hostess reached across me to my plate and grabbed my food, with her bare hands, to show me how to properly construct a spring roll. And then I ate it. It is what it is. So, yes, I am aware that personal space is largely an American concept.

But what I noticed upon arriving back in the States is that my own fellow citizens have become space invaders, too. Perhaps I’m hyper-sensitive about it because of the horrendous flu season we’re having (compounded by the fact that I—yes, stubbornly—forewent the flu shot), but I suddenly felt like my PSB (personal space bubble) had been deflated.

Airports are the worst. Sure, travelers are hurried, anxious, tired, whatever, but it’s not an excuse to creep up on me in the security line or snuggle up to me at baggage claim so you can have a better view of the conveyor belt. If I can feel your breath—or, um, your coughing—on the back of my neck, I’m pretty sure that is too close, folks. And when did it become OK to make my seat armrest your personal footrest—to the point that your sock-clad foot is jabbing my elbow from behind? I thought about turning around and drawing an imaginary PSB a couple of times—and then telling the offending creeper that he/she needed to stand OUTSIDE the bubble for all of our well-being…but, well, that would just be weird. 

I'm kind of attached to my personal space bubble, for better or worse. Especially right now, in the height of flu season, and especially in contained spaces like airplanes. And I wish people would respect that a tiny bit more.

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