We Americans like our personal space. Arms length, thank you very much! 4-1/2 years in the Balkans and I’m still fighting with letting go of this bit of my American-ness. I shared some of my blunders (like catching the pastors' wife's earlobe) in a previous blog about the awkwardness in learning greetings… http://balkanupdate.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!660C45E1AF918E49!659.entry
Well, it’s not just greetings that are getting me this time; it’s the sense of space. Here are some ways that you will have your “American” space invaded here in the Balkans:
- Shop clerks will follow you all around the shop (a space sometimes no bigger than a walk-in closet) and many times within a 12” space of your person. Now this isn’t because they think you’ll steal (or maybe it is). It’s because they want to be helpful. Many times I’ve picked up an item from the shelf and have barely decided to buy it when it’s taken and rung up for me at the register!
- Sidewalks are for parking, not for pedestrians. Pedestrians beware.
- Lines, what are lines? They are actually groups of people pushing forward, sometimes quite forcefully, to be the next one to get helped. See previous post: “Going Postal & Line Etiquette” http://balkanupdate.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!660C45E1AF918E49!455.entry
- Older ladies will often times touch the chests of younger ones to make sure you take what they’re saying to heart. The first time this happened I tried to turn every which way to get out of her range… backing up, turning sideways, crossing my arms, etc… but she just kept coming, closing the American-space gap to well within the Balkan space gap (about 6-12”) because whatever she was trying to get across to me was so important she just had to tap my sternum to emphasize it.
- Girls will walk hand in hand or arm in arm because they are “drugarki” (best friends). Close guy friends can also be seen walking with their arms around their buddies shoulders or leaning over them. Now there is nothing sexual about this. It is just an expression of the closeness of the friendship.
The reason I’m writing this is that I’m still having the hardest time giving up my space, my American sense of space. Every week I am faced with this again in relation to one situation in particular.
First, I must preface that this one lady is very sweet and so full of joy even though her life has been hard. She is very grateful and likes to show it.
- Yet she grabs me and hugs and kisses me (the three-cheeked-full-red-lipstick kiss) when she greets me.
- She grabs me and hugs and kisses me when she’s encouraged by something I’ve said, something we’ve agreed on, or something we’ve just talked about.
- Then, as she’s leaving, she again grabs me and hugs and kisses me, sometimes several times, before heading out the door.