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Byline: Paul Daley's news & views

IS THERE anything that makes you feel more uncomfortable than standing too close to a stranger? The crush in a lift or the jam on public transport, our personal space is so important we don't want anyone to trespass into it. In crowded situations we go out of our way to keep ourselves to ourselves. Head down and looking the other way, in our minds we are singing 'don't stand so close to me'. Sting got it right, who needs the social awkwardness of body contact with a stranger? We have become so paranoid about getting too up-close and personal with strangers that a whole industry has grown up around it. Who knew that there is science dedicated to the study of closeness? It's called 'proxemics'. It sets out rules and social guidelines for just what are acceptable distances depending on the occasion.

For example, the intimate zone is defined as being anywhere between zero and 18 inches from another person. OK in relationships, but remember that the next time you're on a crowded train, or in a queue for a coffee.

Then comes the personal space, this is the one people always moan about. The experts say If you stand anywhere between 18 inches and four feet, you're in the acceptable only-as-a-friend zone. Professionals such as teachers and doctors are also allowed into this area.

Casual friends and acquaintances are allowed to stand between four and 12 feet away. This is called the social zone and is probably a safe distance for engaging in banter and conversation with strangers.

After that comes the public zone, 12 feet and beyond is where you should stand if you're in authority. It's the right distance to bark out orders and directions.

So you see the social rules of where we stand can have great significance.

Human resource departments are inundated with complaints about people invading their 'personal space'. Micro aggression, they call it. While In Japan, some men are taking out insurance to protect themselves in case they are sued for infringing into women's intimate zones and make any inappropriate contact when travelling by train, which is ironic as Japan is famous for herding its passengers on to its trains like they are packing tins of sardines.

In Spain they have a different problem. Men spreading themselves out too much and taking up too much space. And did I mention body odour? Don't stand so close, I hear you say. I wish - it's a social minefield.

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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Aug 27, 2017
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