Personal space is an unwritten courtesy that most everyone dutifully respects. We each have boundaries- that if crossed- seem almost like an attack(depending on the severity of the violation). Our personal “bubbles” are a safe-zone- a place that is entered only by our invitation. Keeping a comfortable amount of distance between ourselves and strangers when possible, is something that is understood and followed by almost any civilized American. I say “American,” because this norm of personal space may be unique to Americans. Other cultures may not have the same expectations when it comes to personal space.
I didn’t set out to break this particular social norm- but the situation presented itself and I grabbed it. One Sunday my boyfriend and I decided to spend our sunday afternoon outside at Rock Canyon park. We drove to the back of the park where it was empty of people. We got our blanket out and proceeded up the hill to the perfect spot- hidden behind some trees. As we got closer I realized that we weren’t the only ones that had taken advantage of this great spot. I had to stop my boyfriend from almost walking straight into them. There was a couple laying side by side on their picnic blanket – enjoying their privacy and seclusion. We walked away laughing that we had almost walked right into them. Then I realized- “hey- this is a great opportunity to violate a social norm!” It took some convincing to get my boyfriend to go along with it. We decided that we had just as much right to enjoy the perfect spot as they did. We walked back up to the hidden nook behind the trees, fluffed our blanket out and placed it about 5 feet away from their blanket. After a couple of minutes, my boyfriend started reading the scriptures out loud and then I went over to them and offered them some sunflower seeds that I had gotten for free at the Bees game the night before. After almost the longest 20 minutes ever- we picked up and left.
This social norm violation was quite uncomfortable. This couple had clearly picked this secluded spot on purpose- to avoid being next to anyone. They were enjoying their alone time together and didn’t want to be disturbed. I could understand that. When we invaded their clearly marked bubble- I could immediately sense the violation. They communicated their uncomfortableness through their body language and frequent glances- wondering “what is this weird couple doing?” Honestly- I don’t think they even knew how to react to us- it was so out of the norm- that I know they were stumped as to how to respond. When I tried to be friendly and offer them sunflower seeds- it made the awkwardness in the air even more apparent. They seemed almost worried as I clearly was not socially inept. I almost could sense that they felt sorry for us. It was really weird. It took everything not to start laughing and quit- but I stuck to it even though it was terribly uncomfortable. It felt odd to be encroaching on someone else’s space- and to do it so forwardly. Until violating a social norm- I had no idea how powerful and ingrained they are in me and in society. This experience has taught me to be aware of and possibly question the norms that I unconsciously follow.