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Dalama Adventures Tale of two corporate types ditching their jobs and traveling the world for 14 months... check out all photos, blogs & interesting tid bits at http://www.dalama.net

Personal Space A Non-Concept in Asia

VIETNAM | Monday, 30 July 2007 | Views [13116]

One of the characteristics of America, that we've come to really miss over the past months in Asia, is having our personal space, and others respect the concept of personal space.  People in general here do not share the same priority that we place on having our own space in between self and stranger.  Walking down the street I'm nearly trampled and run over by groups of people.  I sometimes wonder if I'm completely invisible.  The concept of waiting in line (or in a queue) is also not a practice here.  I enter a bathroom and take my place in what I think is a line.  I politely hand signal to those ahead of me, inquiring if they are in line, receiving only confused, blank stares- probably wondering what is this crazy westerner doing waving her hands and arms around in the air.  Soon, a flood of women come through the door, pushing their bodies all around mine, and totally snaking my position in line, cutting in front of me as a stall empties.  it's all for one, and one for all when vying for bathrooms, food, drink and purchasing tickets or goods from vendors.  On the streets, on the bus, or even in planes, I find people pressing their bodies right up against mine (like I don't even exist) and it's already hot and steamy, why the need to get so close to me?
Some personal thoughts as to why there such differing perspectives or priorities on the need for personal space between eastern and western cultures... well, at least based on some of the experiences Darrin and I have had so far in the countries that we've been traveling in:
1)  Living space is close.  In many of these countries we've observed tiny dwellings with entire families living together... in some instances, generations of families living together, sharing eating, sleeping, bathing, working space together, often all in one big universal room.  We saw these living conditions in the hill tribe regions of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Nepal, Vietnam, and the as these close family communities migrated from field to city, they also kept the same closeness of community togetherness and habits as they moved to the cities.
2)  Communist/socialist influence.  Many countries we've visited have had some sort of socialist history, where space, work, basic functions of living and belongings are shared.  
3)  War & famine.  In some countries, such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam, thousands of people, spanning many generations, were even forced to live on top of each other in forced labor camps and in reeducation camps where there was no sense of personal space.  In war, resistance and famine, it was fight for survival, and there's no waiting in line to feed your starving self and family.  
4)  Collective versus individual.  In Asia there's a much more collective and often family approach to doing things, versus the highly individualistic culture in the US.  Down time, alone time, and in your own space/place in the US is respected and expected.
Throughout South East Asia, people have migrated across boarders, and taken habits and behaviors with them.  While these may not be bona-fide reasons for why there are differences, they are a peek into our experiences that lead us to greater understanding of social, political and environmental conditions that could potentially contribute to different perspectives and behaviors.

Tags: Culture


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