Saturday, October 01, 2005

Don’t stand so close to me

I am one of those people who doesn’t like to be touched, not on an everyday basis. Not by friends, and certainly not by strangers. I make accommodations for my husband, however, albeit grudgingly. Of course, if I haven’t seen someone in awhile, a good friend, a family member, a hug is in order, the same if we are parting for a long time. But if you make friends with me expecting affection, forget it. For the most part, my friends and family have accepted this misanthropic peculiarity of mine, although they do at times question my propensity for giving the cats an unlimited supply of TLC. Cats are cats. They are furry and they are soft. They don’t ask for too much.

Living in America with such an aversion to human contact isn’t so difficult. Greetings are formal, an occasional handshake with people you don’t know. People in crowds or in queue don’t tend to huddle up too closely, everyone acknowledges the need for personal space. An accidental touch usually leads to an apology by both parties, and a more perspicuous understanding to stand back further.

Personal space is king in America. Children have their own rooms when it can be afforded, and parents allow for some privacy. A knock is always required, whether it be a bedroom or an office, even if the door is slightly ajar. The pop-in is not acceptable, a phone call is always required before stopping by, and you don’t call people during dinnertime or after 10pm. Such a lifestyle may seem cold, unfriendly, but people like this, I swear we can be quite affable. We just like our space.

I am pretty sure you can’t translate the term “personal space” in Greek. At least, Greeks seem to have no understanding of what this means, nor do they care. Greeks pile on each other in crowds, in queues, in grocery stores, shops. They touch your shoulder or your arm when they pass by you. Friends and family always require the double cheek kiss greeting, even if they just saw you the day before. Personal space is offensive to Greeks, an insult.

The problem is, I can’t come to terms with this. The friendly greetings amongst family and friends I can handle. The close proximity of crowds and queues I cannot. Once, in line somewhere, there was a woman who kept knocking up against my back. I would step forward a little so there was space. She would move right up next to me again. The line wasn’t moving, I was just trying to put some space between us. Every time I tried, she would move up next to me. I knew she couldn’t get it my purse, that she wasn’t trying to steal anything. She was just under the mistaken impression that touching the person in front of you makes the line go faster. After a few attempts at giving her some space, I had enough. I am not a violent person, not really, I am usually quite meek. But I backed up into her with as much force as I could muster, but in the same general way she was pressing forward against me. She stumbled, looked at me in shock, and proceeded to give me plenty of space for the duration of our wait.

I’ve often thought that perhaps whenever I am going to go into a crowd situation I should just put my arms out at my sides and spin around, that was no one will come near me. The downside of that is that everyone will think I am crazy, but Greeks pretty much think that about me anyway.

In the end, I’m not sure how I am going to learn to deal with the Greek proclivity towards close proximity contact. I guess I’ll have to learn to grin and bear it, or not go out in public too much. Then again, I can always just act like I’m insane.


The SeaWitch said...

I had an aversion to being the first person to answer the door so I wouldn't have to give or receive the "filakia" (kisses). When people came near me I always took a step back from them as if they had some contagious fatal disease. The first time I met my koumpara, I thought she was a lesbian because she always wanted to walk arm and arm with me. Fast forward 8 years...I'm worse than anyone now for PDAs. I hug and kiss everyone. I have totally got into the Greek swing of things. When my sister came to visit me last month...she was the one taking two step backwards when I came to kiss her. LOL What a difference time makes, huh?

Niko said...

Mason had such a hard time with this when we visited in 2001. I left him alone in Athens for a few days while I went to go visit my Papou, and when I returned he was shaking like a leaf in the corner of the hotel room.

I like to tell people that Greeks have personal space, it's just skin tight :-)

EllasDevil said...

Well this blog really makes me ponder the words of the wise 'Gus Portokalos'. I'd like to point out that being able to quote this involved me finding the DVD and forwarding to the right spot.

"They different people, so dry! That family is like a piece of toast! No honey, no jam just dry. My daughter's gonna marry Ian Miller, a xeno with a toast family!"

The American scenario you describe that might sound cold and unfriendly to me seems well... cold and unfriendly.

Personally I've never had a problem with the kisses. My problem was with the fact my father and uncles and you name them always grabbed my cheeks when they'd greet me and it always HURT. In fact from time to time, even now they 'reach up' (rather than down) to grab my cheeks.

I like the closeness we've got going on here in Greece. I like being close to my friends and family. I like being able to express feelings and hug and kiss them. This is what makes us different to the uptight 'formal handshake' Brits and Americans (oh and Niko, unfortunately Canadians too....)

melusina said...

Hehe, well, like I said, I don't mind it with family here, but I don't want strangers near me. =p Of course, while I've been sick my sister-in-law came over and it was all I could do to keep her far enough away from me so she wouldn't catch my cold.

Anonymous said...

I have english relatives who don’t dare to kiss my two year old son on the cheek. I’m always expecting them to give him a vigorous shakehand, at least ;)

Mulusina, do you still remember the good old “Police”?


melusina said...

Of course I remember the Police. Where do you think I stole the title of this post from? =)