When I get the chance, and I have the brain power (which is not often these days), I like to people watch.
In the mid nineties, I actually really wanted to spend a whole day just riding the underground rail at the Denver Airport, people watching.I never did it, and sadly missed the opportunity, since you’re not allowed to do that sort of thing now. If you’re in the park, alone, and you’re not reading a book and texting frantically or whatever, people look at you askance. Because you’re watching other people. Obviously you’re a serious creep and cops may be called because you’re just sitting there, watching people. People don’t do that, these days, but I’ll save that for another post.
One thing you notice if you’ve moved around a lot and you take the time to pay attention to is the demands of personal space. In New York City, it’s accepted to get right up against someone in line, on the train, passing on the sidewalk, whatever. In the cities and towns with more horizontal sprawl, there’s an expectation of being given more room.
Now that my husband is traveling, we’ve been comparing notes on People Watching (Yeah, he does it to. Weird huh?). He comes home and tells me about the fashion trends he sees at the airports and what-not. And one day I asked him “What about personal space? Is it like here?”
He thought about that for a minute and shook his head. “Now that I think about it, no. Even Denver isn’t as rabid about personal space like it is here. (Denver is about an hour and a half north of us).”
“Rabid” may not be the best word. “Quietly insistent” might be a better choice, but I’m curious about why this is. My own personal theory is that we’re not just an area that sprawls across the landscape because we have the space to do so, but also because in our own specific city-suburb-zone, we have 5 active military bases, all within 20 minutes of downtown Colorado Springs. We’ve a lot of military, active duty and retired. We don’t just see guys with Vietnam vet bumper stickers and ballcaps on, we see WWII and Korea vets.
Military vets like their space.
You get the impression that getting too physically close could be a bad idea. Not that the other person will turn violent or anything, but there’s a “comfort zone” you feel compelled to allow for. When we walk down the street, each person has a bubble of subconscious, socially agreed upon personal space around them. Some have more, others less, but the average seems to be about a foot to a foot and a half radius from the person in question. We’ll get closer if we have to, but we seem to prefer not to. We’re very reluctant in this area to get jammed close, even on the wacky days like when people camp out for Black Friday deals or to be the first inside at the premier of movie X. We’d much rather extend that line all the way out to the parking lot and into traffic than bunch in closer for safety purposes.
Even the attitude is different. In other places, if you get close to someone you don’t know in line at the grocery store, the feeling you get is more of a “yeah, whatever.” Here, even among the obviously non-military, you may get glared at. “What the hell is your problem? Haven’t you heard of personal space?” is the vibe that radiates off of a lot of people.
You can imagine what Christmas in the stores feels like. Or shopping during a high-volume time like Saturdays at Costco.
Or maybe I’m just imagining it all.