Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Gimme some room

This is by no means an original topic in the expat blogosphere, but my God, there are just times when it has to be said again - what is up with the French sense of personal space? Or more so, the lack thereof it? I know it's something that varies depending on where you come from in the US as well, but in my little Scandinavian corner of the world, we give people a wide berth.

Now, over time, I've gotten used to the close quarters - I mean, small country + large population = not really much choice. But what I don't really understand is why, when people have the choice, do they choose to do it?

Take last night - I decide to go see a movie (Cliente, for those who are wondering). I buy my ticket and notice there are 368 free seats. "Whew", I think, "It's not going to be crowded". I go in and there is a grand total of 5 other people. I choose an empty row and take my seat, waiting for the movie to start. Enter a extremely large French woman. Who, out of all the other 368 seats available, decides to pick the one right next to me. Now, not even two seats down - she literally heaves herself into the seat next to me. I take a look at her and then a look around at all the other empty seats. I look back at her again, trying to make my point. I contemplate getting up and changing seats, but the Minnesota side of me is worried about insulting her. But she smells so strongly that I finally get the guts to stand up and move - only to see another woman coming to sit down on the other side of me. Granted she's two seats down, but now I'm going to have to ask one of them to stand up if I want to move. So instead, I sit there and vent my frustrations on twitter.

After the movie, I go upstairs to the ladies' room. I enter, and there are ten empty stalls. I pick one and hear the door open after me. The lady proceeds to make herself comfortable in the stall next to mine. WTF? Everybody knows you pick the stall farthest away to give the other person some privacy.

I then hop on the bus to go back home. I take my seat in the back, where there are a lot of empty ones. We stop at the next stop, and, you guessed it - the dude takes a look at all the empty seats available and for a reason unknown to me, chooses the frickin' seat next to me. At this point, I just had to laugh - not wanting to give people their space is just such a foreign concept to me. But then again, "Duh Samantha - you're in a foreign country!!!"

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22 Comments:

Blogger Christine said...

It's the same here in Switzerland even though the Swiss are supposed to be very private. They don't seem to mind invading your personal space. I have also had people walk right into me, not looking where they are going, like I am Invincible (or maybe it is because I am short??!). People in Europe just don't seem to look where they are going.

October 7, 2008 at 10:48 AM  
Blogger kylie said...

ksam. yup. been there. just be thankful the women sitting next to you didn't have really stinky feet and take her shoes off during the movie and then put them on the chair in front of her for the whole movie. (and how was the movie? :D)

October 7, 2008 at 10:55 AM  
Blogger Emily Marie said...

So funny, I had a very similar experience this morning while trying to get to work. It took forever for the SNCF to put the numero de quai up on the board for my train. When they finally did, everyone started walking towards the quai. Yes, it was crowded. But did the woman behind me feel that she would get there faster by walking on top of me (basically humping my back)? I mean, WTF??!!

October 7, 2008 at 11:08 AM  
Blogger Caitlin said...

this exact thing happened to me on the tram the other day! all the seats were empty and this guy had to climb OVER me to sit in the seat next to me since I was sitting in the aisle seat, surrounded by an empty car. I mean, really? it just seemed not worth the effort.

October 7, 2008 at 11:12 AM  
Blogger C. said...

hahah wow, I know what you mean. Drives me nuts.

October 7, 2008 at 11:13 AM  
Blogger misplaced texan said...

Gah, I hate that!! Someone should do a study to find out why French (and it seems other European) folk insist on invading your space. It's the same when you're shopping and or just when you're waiting to cross the street. Insult-schminsult, I would have moved seats, too!

October 7, 2008 at 11:28 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

That and people cutting in line are at the top of my list. I applaud you because you are much better at holding it in than I am. I tend to stare right at them for 10 straight minutes while coughing until they get the point... but that is only for the rudest of cases (ie line cutters).

October 7, 2008 at 1:15 PM  
Blogger parisiannewyorker said...

It's also really annoying when you are standing in line and the person behind you insists on standing REALLY CLOSE to you - and then when you try to move forward a bit to have some personal space, they move forward too. Drives me crazy! That, and also when people stare at you - it's very weird to me because in NYC if someone stares at you, they get their asses whupped.

October 7, 2008 at 2:10 PM  
Blogger christina said...

Too funny! There are millions of threads on 'expats in Germany' message boards covering precisely this topic - people having shopping carts rammed into their backs, Germans not being able to walk down the street without banging into someone or breathing down your neck while standing in line etc etc. SO much fun. I wonder if the French are a bit better or a bit worse? :-)

October 7, 2008 at 2:30 PM  
Blogger Antipodeesse said...

But remember Sam, you are a magnetic, charismatic individual. People are just drawn to you. They can't help it!

October 7, 2008 at 2:32 PM  
Blogger The Big Finn said...

Also...
What about the close-talking?
My God! Is there a reason why Europeans feel the need to put their face only 6 inches away from mine when they're talking to me? I've actually had to put my finger on a person's forehead, back up to an arm's length, and then tell the person that I have a one-arm rule when I'm talking to somebody*.

*Does not apply to Mrs. TBF and close friends.

October 7, 2008 at 3:08 PM  
Blogger Alisa said...

i was thinking the same thing as the big finn... my host mom in montpellier would talk to me inches from my face, and when i pulled back, she'd go in farther... gah! how uncomfortable.
i hope the movie was good enough to distract you from the two big ladies!

October 7, 2008 at 5:06 PM  
Blogger Loulou said...

Oh this did make me laugh!
We heard a story from friends about going to the beach...a big, wide, empty beach...and a family came and spread all their stuff out right next to them! Towels literally touching.
Bizarre, non?

October 7, 2008 at 5:25 PM  
Blogger La Framéricaine said...

I think that this post is particularly hilarious because I just had an in-depth conversation with Le Framéricain about it on Saturday after we went to our local post office to pick up mail from a "secure" mailbox. The general area near the boxes was empty until a very large, round man came in to put a letter in the outgoing mail slot. For some reason, he asked us the time as we were standing quietly opening our mail at the counter established for that purpose. We kindly guessed for him and then tried to go on with our task. But, for some unknown godawful reason he kept fluttering around us, long after his letter was slid through the slot. WTF?

I grabbed my Jules and got the hell out of there. Which began the long discussion.

I'm glad that you wrote about this because the exact same movie phenomenon happens every time we go to a movie. We try to choose a sit with the greatest distance between ourselves and others, in a semi-empty theater and I'll be damned if someone doesn't come sit as close as s/he can without sitting on us! We, too, just guffaw and move to another seat as close to the starting time of the film as possible, hoping that all the getting up and sitting down will be done with.

Personally, I always thought it was just be being claustrophobic and/or on the rag because I hate it when people get up on me in line to order food, get near me with their grocery carts, or exceed--as your other commenter so sagely noted--"the one arm rule."(That was great!)

My hero on this subject is:

Edward T. Hall

Hall first created the concept of proxemics, or personal spaces. In his book, "The Hidden Dimension", he describes the subjective dimensions that surround each of us and the physical distances one tries to keep from other people, according to subtle cultural rules.

Without him, I'm sure I would already have taken an Uzi with me to McDo!!!

Great post, Ksam!

October 7, 2008 at 5:54 PM  
Blogger corine said...

100% d'accord. This is one thing I don't miss about France. And to make things worse, ils puent !!!

October 7, 2008 at 7:14 PM  
Blogger Crystal said...

I kind of had an opposite experience on the RER today...I had to take the train to work at 8:20 which is like train rush hour, and when the doors opened, the people already in the train (standing section) didn't move at all to let the crowd of people waiting on the quai come in. They literally stood their gripping the metal poles with white knuckles while the new passengers literally had to step over them and through them to get a spot. We all ended up squished together anyway, and I could swear the original passengers were muttering horrible things under their breath. I also love it when I get squished like a fly but say nothing but heaven forbid my bookbag knocks into someone behind me...my victim gives me a death stare like it's my fault there are 300 people in a space designed for 100 and I should be better in control of my belongings...ugh. Don't even get me started on personal space and the damn bises.....

October 7, 2008 at 7:37 PM  
Blogger Rochelle said...

I think we all know why the guy on the bus sat next to you ;)

I didn't know about the toilet seat deal so you might find that in Australia too if you ever go...

But the movie seat thing is weird. Unless a cinema is crowded, if I'm on my own I don't want company!

October 7, 2008 at 7:48 PM  
Blogger Séverine said...

It's not about the country, i have always lived in France it it pissed me off when there were so many seats available and people would sit right next to me.

There might be several explainations: they are ashamed to go to the theatre alone and sitting next to someone gives the impression they are not alone.
It can be a perv. It happened to me. In any case, I don't find this behavior normal and would always recommend to move to another seat.

October 7, 2008 at 8:30 PM  
Blogger wcs said...

christine, you are my new super-hero! Short and invincible! ;)

October 8, 2008 at 9:31 AM  
Blogger Ginger said...

I've even noticed this in New England. Imagine this ... empty parking lot. I park my car. Get out. I exit the store, I see two cars besides mine ... parked on either side of my car. The same goes for the movie theater. I think it has more to do with human nature.

What I do notice in Europe (France in particular, where I am flying to tomorrow to live for three months with my now fiance for the "grand experiment".) is the lack of skill or desire to form lines. Just a large group of persons pressing against one another to move towards the front of the line.

Just my two cents. :)

October 8, 2008 at 11:38 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

The most annoying thing - trying to board an Easy Jet flight. Who the he** ever thought up that boarding process?? Talk about an invasion of personal space.
Sorry - i just had to bring it up! ;)

October 9, 2008 at 2:37 PM  
Blogger Ksam said...

Christine, it's so true!! Their method may work well for other countries, but for the French (and I imagine the Spanish & the Italians), it's complete & utter chaos.

October 10, 2008 at 12:15 PM  

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