Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Let's Talk About SPACE

No, not outer space, we'll save that topic for another day. But no, I'm talking about physical space. Before moving to Spain I hadn't given the topic much thought. But since my time here it has become something I think about quite often. And it's time to vent a little..
Imagine, you are in a public place. Let's say a museum, or a restaurant, or in line for an ice cream. Now imagine cutting the personal space you have in half- at least. Bearable, but just super uncomfortable, right? Welcome to Spain! Everyone stands a little too close to their neighbors, not noticing that they are bothering you. They think there is room on the sidewalk to walk past you, and then when they run right into you they are so surprised and (usually..) apologize. There are some days when it doesn't bother me, when people talking inches from my face can be a somewhat pleasant experience. But most days, it is a frustrating, claustrophobic test of my patience. But the worst part for me is that people do not move for other people. At all.

Let me give you an example: I am walking down the aisle in the supermarket. There is a woman in front of me facing the products on the shelves. She has given herself a nice distance between the her and the shelf so she can browse the products with ease, but the space is just small enough that I cannot pass in front of her. And behind her, while there mayyy have been enough space to pass, she has placed her cart ever so as to take up as much room as possible across the aisle, making it completely impossible to pass through the aisle without disturbing her. Now, I know this situation of course happens in the U.S. as well, all the time. But here is the difference. In the U.S., upon noticing someone is attempting to pass her, the woman would move her cart, scoot a little closer to the products in front of her and create sufficient room for you to pass. Usually you don't even have to ask or say anything for this to happen. The woman notices you are there and trying to pass through, and she moves for you. She may even mutter an, a 'sorry', or give you a small smile, in some way acknowledge there are in fact two human beings in the aisle. But here in Spain, it is a different story. Here, I swear, people do not even notice others are present in the supermarket. So, I try firstly to pass through without saying anything. I squeeze one way, when that doesn't work I try a different angle, which at that point I would assume she would give me a little space so I could pass. But alas, she is completely immersed in her choices of olive oil and it is impossible for me to pass. She continues browsing with ease, knowing now I am there but actually unaware that I am having trouble. Finally, I say "¡Perdón!", and she moves her cart literally an inch! And not because she is rude, she is probably very nice, but because she actually thinks it is all the space that I need to pass her. And I ONLY get that space when I ask for it. There are no assumptions, and no one moves for anyone unless you ask for the space.

Now my problem is not just with personal space. The people in Spain seem to like everything a little smaller than in the U.S. I'm talking chairs, coffee, hallways, waiting rooms, bathrooms, kitchens, appliances, you name it, it is smaller than I'm used to. Not only has this created the ever-present feeling that I am an extremely large human being, but it makes many of my experiences just uncomfortable enough to be, well,..super annoying. Sure, it sounds trivial, I know. But when you live with this space inefficiency every day it becomes the most aggravating thing to deal with. And I must remind myself daily that the idea of how much space one needs is different here. Not everyone has it out for me in some cruel plan to make me loose it. Must remind myself: People do not decide to have an in-depth conversation right in front and completely blocking the doorway just to get a rise out of me. It's just, different. Time moves slower, to be in a hurry is a rare occurrence, and my space is your space, yours is mine. And I must constantly remind myself that in coming here I took on a challenge of embracing another culture as (at least part of) my own for the time being. Must remind myself: This lack of comfort in my surroundings is many times what gives me the energy to talk with new people and learn new things. Must remind myself.

There. That was my rant. However culturally ethnocentric or slanted it may sound, I typed it out here so I won't scream it to the next innocent woman who, however tiny, takes up the entire aisle when I'm at the grocery store.

The espresso side is French, but still pretty much sums things up nicely..
Happy Tuesday! 

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