Personal Space…differences between Haiti and USA

Laurie and I were observing the difference between the amount of personal space needed in Haiti and the USA.  We had been sitting in an office where there were a lot of people who were taking numbers and then finding seats.  Nobody wanted to sit next to another person! The room was full and there were empty chairs because everyone tried to leave at least one seat between them and the next person!  They would rather stand for hours than sit next to a stranger!

When I was a kid, my sister and I shared a bedroom.  I can remember my sister, Linda, needing quite a LARGE amount of “personal” space.  One time she drew a line down the middle of the room and told me that I could not cross that line because that was “her” half of the room and I was not allowed in it!

Riding in cars, kids have no sense of personal space.  Parents go insane listening to kids arguing back and forth about someone touching them or putting arms or legs in “their space”!  Do you think we parents cause our children to grown up needing so much personal space because we tell our kids to stop touching each other and scoot over and let them have their space?

In the States, if you stand to close to a person when you are talking to them, the person will start stepping back from you.  If you keep following them, you will make them very uncomfortable!  I have heard friends say “get away from me” when someone is standing too close!  They feel threatened in some way when someone is invading their personal space!  People in the States act like they are more comfortable if you give them 2 feet between you and them when you are talking.  I think some domestic abuse is from a couple getting in each other faces and neither willing to back down!  They feel threatened and strike out even though one is so much smaller than the other!

Now, Haiti is totally different!  Sometimes 2 or 3 people will share the same chair!  They do not mind if it will allow someone to sit down.  When you stand and talk to someone, it is not unusual for them to be touching your arm to punctuate a point in the conversation.  Personal space lines are very blurred and are not clear at all.  Standing side by side friends will use their shoulders and hips to tap each other as they laugh and share things with each other and they are perfectly comfortable doing this!

Over the years, I have become Haitian!  I grab someone’s arm to get their attention when talking to them or to emphasize a point in the conversation.  I stand close to talk and will nudge someone with my shoulder or arm as we stand and talk in a group.  I will get close to them to talk and never think anything of it!  I like putting my hand on someone’s arm as we talk.  It is like an additional connection.  Just a little more personal and warm.

In Haiti, no seats are left open in an office full of people.  You do not care if you know the person beside you or not.  Plus, it gives you a great opportunity to meet new people when you sit next to a stranger!  I also will talk to strangers in elevators which makes people very uncomfortable!  But that is a whole different problem!  :)

Next time you go to the driver’s license facility or into a crowded office, sit next to strangers and do not leave a chair empty between you and the next person.  Become Haitian and touch someone as you are talking to them!  Let me know how that makes you feel and how they react!  :)

6 comments (Add your own)

1. Sarah Grumbine wrote:
Ha ha, Dixie. I think I was born in the wrong country... Back in '97, I went to the Dominican Republic. In the church we went to we were early so I sat in the middle of a blank bench away from all of the people I went with, just to see what would happen. I ended up with one family on one side of me, two families on the other. It was hot and sticky and there were about 15 of us on a little bench that should only fit about 9, even by my standards.

Fri, July 9, 2010 @ 3:19 PM

2. Laurie Kjernald wrote:
I have lived in Jamaica, the US and Sweden now, I truly believe that people from the Carribean have the least personal space and Scandanavians have the most. Swedes have way more personal space needs than Americans! Funny, I wonder how much personal space Russians need? Praying for your ministry, Laurie

Fri, July 9, 2010 @ 3:28 PM

3. aline wrote:
Ienjoyed the comment on personal space aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaain our family we were 11 9 children mom and dad. There were only three bedrooms in our house i for the four boys one for the five girls the other for mom and dad. As adults we all have bigger houses but still treasure the understanding, the love, the growing up that close proximity forced us to come to terms with..i still need my space at 79

Fri, July 9, 2010 @ 7:08 PM

4. Paula Marcum wrote:
Thank you, Dixie. You've hit the nail on the head!

Sat, July 10, 2010 @ 7:57 AM

5. Debra Gardner wrote:
That's really funny. My haitian daughter loves to get close when we talk and I was feeling really uncomfortable. I was wondering what was wrong with me. Thanks for the Haitian insight!!! I loved this blog. It's so true. My son and I went to get a blood test and there were plenty of seats, but because people were sitting in some of them I didn't know where to sit down. hehehe

Sat, July 10, 2010 @ 3:55 PM

6. Debra Lessard wrote:
Hi Dixie,just wanted to pass on this link for an article "Haiti recovery paralyzed 6 months after deadly quake"

Sun, July 11, 2010 @ 5:45 PM

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