Personal Space


One thing that I have noticed and at times struggled with here is the loss of space.  I moved from Portland, OR where there are wide sidewalks and lots of open air.  People leave a bubble between one another and rarely is that burst. I also moved from an apartment that I shared with one person but it also had a living room and kitchen and we both were rarely home at the same time and I had an office in a different part of town.  While small dogs rarely leave your lap unattended, I didn’t realize that I was swimming in personal space until I have lost much of that space.

I notice it mainly on public transit. I ride some form, and my days multiple different forms, of public transit every day.  And what I notice on public transit is that all of a sudden personal space, or a personal bubble, becomes non existent. This is the worst on the bus.  All of a sudden, you are sitting in a seat but you don’t really notice any more that you have never been so close to so many people’s behinds or hips.  OR there already isn’t space for everyone and you are standing and holding on to the one little square inch of bar visible so as to not fall directly into the man in front of you and at the next stop, 10 more people somehow get on and squeeze in anyway.  Now you are completely squished against the man you tried to give a little space to. Space no longer exists in rush hour.

Yesterday was orientation for the first day of school. I have returned to grad school to study for another masters.  I was on the way home and found a seat, sat down and opened my book. Two stops later on the Ubahn a little family, mom dad and young adult son, get on the Ubahn and sit in the three seats surrounding me.  Totally fine. I am in my own world until the dad sitting next to me pushes me closer to the wall of the train because he must spread out more.  I want to say to him, “Sir, I am already being compact. I cannot shrink in this moment and now you are pushing me.  We all have to sacrifice a bit of space here.” Don’t even get me started on the evil nature of man spreading.  At this point, I am squished up against the wall of the ubahn and will be for the next 6 stops.

Personal space is no longer in a city of millions.

Not only in public transit but the minute you start walking around on the street, if you have been used to being able to walk from point A to point B without dodging people like the game of frogger, then you aren’t walking around this city.  Yesterday as I was coming home I counted that I almost stepped on four people. FOUR people! And not because they were just there…it was because they hurried up to cut me off while walking and then slowed down to saunter down the street.  There was almost not enough space to take my next step without stepping on them.  And this is normal here. Let me also note that two out of four of these people were talking on their phone.  The other two were texting.  I must say that it is a gift to those of us around you if you walk without being on your phone. It does feel a little like I am wading though a sea of zombie people when I notice everyone is on their phone. You are missing it! I want to shout! You aren’t living in the world!

And finally, I now live in a flat that is good size but not huge and I have sporadic work hours and no office and my partner works from home which means that all of our space is our space at this point.  And because of the public transit and the streets and the crowded nature of where I live now, I feel that loss of personal space ever more acutely.  It has become a new challenge to carve out spaces of my own, to take up space in the world that offers me less and less and pushes me out of the way. It is a lesson in deciding what I need and when and asking for it or taking up space.  I no longer move three seats over so that the man next to me can take up more space and I take up less.  I sit down.

How do you view space these days?

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