The conference attendees came from all over the world. All colours, sizes, flavours and shapes. Rather like a good gelato stand, I guess.
I watched them as they interacted before and after sessions, standing outside the auditorium with a cup of coffee or an evening drink. Two people would chat, maybe a third would join them, they’d expand the circle as more arrived, and eventually the group would break into smaller conversational groups. I suppose as the circle grows eventually those on one side cannot hear what those on the other side are saying, and will form more intimate and convenient groups.
I love watching people interact, but there’s one social dance that always amuses me.
Different cultures have different ideas of personal space. Two strangers talking to each other will stand at a distance where both feel comfortable, and in (say) Australia, this is at about arm’s length from each other. But put an Australian and (say) someone from one of the Arab lands together, and this curious little shuffle begins.
The Arab likes more personal space than the Aussie, and they will choose a distance about a metre and a half away. The Australian, who prefers something a fair bit closer, will edge towards them until they reach their comfort distance, and then stop.
But now the Australian is inside the Arab’s comfort zone, and they in turn will edge away until they reach a safe distance.
This happens automatically, without any conscious negotiation. They just shuffle along, chatting away, without noticing this amused Aussie watching on.
The weird part is that I won’t necessarily notice when I’m doing it myself. “Why,” I’ll ask myself, “is that pest of a man moving in on me?”
Or, “Why is that gorgeous hunk edging away from me?”
Must be from a different culture or something, I reckon.
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