I have always been very protective of my personal space, and am keenly aware of when it’s being infringed upon.
Because of this, I’ve been thrilled by the relatively high coverage the obnoxious “manspreading” phenomenon has been getting, among others. I frequently do little experiments such as NOT automatically getting out of the way when someone is approaching on my side of the walk, etc., which often leads to near-collisions. Or, let’s not kid ourselves, actual collisions that end with me getting bewildered, dirty looks.
This happens constantly and to all of us: we experience it at the grocery store, the coffee shop, on our sidewalks and even on our roads. It is epidemic and maddening, and is doing NOTHING to curb my hermitic tendencies.
Several years ago, I had the unique privilege to go to Japan for my brother’s wedding. Not only was it gorgeous and thrilling and the opportunity of a lifetime, I fell in love with the culture of respect I observed in just about every interaction. I could go on for days about this (the trains actually RUN ON TIME! **swoon**), but I will try to keep my focus on the respect for personal space I encountered.
We spent most of our time in Tokyo. There are a LOT of people in Tokyo, and space is obviously at a premium. I was so struck by the way that most people comported themselves and how that translated into an attitude of “Look, there are a lot of us and there’s not a lot of room. Let’s put the welfare of the community first, and work together to make this, you know, work.”
It was heaven.
Americans have earned our cowboy-loving, “don’t fence me in” reputation, and often act as though personal space is a religion unto itself–unfortunately, we can and do behave as though this entitles us to everyone else’s space, too. I have lots of theories as to why this is, but they wouldn’t cover any new ground and frankly, I don’t have the strength. But I digress.
So our Japan trip went absolutely perfectly, and what wasn’t perfect was apologized for and fixed above and beyond the call of duty…. Then we returned to America. I won’t bore you with travel horror stories, just suffice it to say that it kind of went to hell once we landed in Chicago. Whatever, that’s travel and shit happens. The thing that was most shocking to us was the total lack of regard for others’ personal space. People bulled onto the elevator and train before we had the chance to get out (and we are not dawdlers). This began a months-long, whispered refrain of “This would never happen in Japan.” Sometimes with a smile, but more often without. Two totally different worlds.
Look, I love my space as much as anyone, maybe even more. I don’t begrudge anyone wanting or needing as much space as Montana. I get it, I really do. But JESUS, people, can we rein it in?
So, to the willfully clueless and outright rude:
Enough with the square shoulders on the wrong side of the walk. Breathing down my neck at Starbucks isn’t going to get your order taken any faster, and is an excellent way to make me “accidentally” hit you with my giant bag as I swing it over my shoulder. If you crash into me on my side of the sidewalk, it will be awkward and you will know that it was you who caused it. (Conversely, if I am the one being clueless, I will apologize profusely.) If you start piling your purchases (or worse, TOSSING THEM) on the counter before I’m done with my transaction, I am going to acknowledge it. Not aggressively, but clearly.
I am not going to live in fear of being called a bitch because YOU don’t know how to act in public. That’s how this horrible behavior gets so rampant. Fuck that fear. Even now, my conditioning prompts me to just get out of everyone’s way rightthissecond, even when they’re barreling through mine. I have been known to apologize while throwing myself out of my own path for them…. I am also currently fighting tooth and nail to unlearn this behavior. It is a slow, hard slog but absolutely worthwhile.
I am under no illusion that I’m going to change the world by somehow magically altering everyone else’s behavior. That is a fool’s errand, an excellent way to make myself miserable, and like I mentioned above, I’m just too tired.
But I can stand my ground. I think I’ve earned the right to be here.