Flying over the United States one sees how much land is uninhabitable. Endless sandy stretches. Infinite forested hills and valleys. Rough, rocky terrain. Vast frontiers of emptiness. Miles of nothing. No towns. No roads. No McDonald’s. No Starbuck’s. No cellphone coverage.
Flying over Mexico one sees much of the same. Empty space. Room.
But that is where the similarity ends. Americans like their open spaces so much they extend the concept to personal space. Mexicans, on the other hand, seem to contradict the freedom of the nation’s wide-open spaces in their personal lives. They do not seem to expect or need personal space. It is a culture thing.
Sidewalks are a prime example of this. They tend to be narrow in smalltown Mexico, unlike their American counterparts where passing is simple and easy. But when Americans come face-to-face in a narrow place, they usually either step out of the way or twist enough so each party can pass without bumping. “God forbid, I should touch a stranger,” seems to be the unstated worry.
But on narrow Mexican sidewalks, oncoming pedestrians seem to barrel toward each other, unaware they are sharing tight quarters, unconcerned they may touch, let alone jostle the other. No effort appears to be made to avoid contact. Miraculously, they pass without a confrontation, mishap, or sexual harassment charge.
The same is true on buses. Strangers sharing seats frequently sit hip-to-hip. Because of different body types, that often is necessary. But to have lower legs, calves, touching continuously can be a bit unnerving for the personal space-obsessed American passenger. On more than one occasion I have had a male sit next to me, spread-legged enough so our calves kissed for the entire bus ride. All other body language indicated he was unaware I was even there.
On one occasion, I was seated in an aisle seat and the aisle of the bus was crammed full of people. A teenage boy was pressed against my arm which was resting on the armrest. His crotch lay on my elbow. I was afraid to move my arm for fear that I would trigger his premature evacuation from the bus. But, it turned out, he not only was unconcerned with the potential for his arousal, but unaware his “junk” was exciting my elbow. The boy held a non-stop conversation with a friend sitting in back of me. I didn’t understand the conversation. It was in rapid Spanish. Perhaps they were talking about my elbow.
Americans are obsessed with personal space. “You may hug me, but don’t do it too intimately.” “You may touch me, but only for a moment.” You may stand next to me, but I must have breathing room or I will die.” “Why the hell did you pick a seat right in front of me in this nearly empty theater?”
Mexicans are not hung-up on personal space. They seem to be unaware of it. And that is just another of the many reasons I admire and respect the Mexican People and their seemingly carefree mindset, positive attitude, and uncomplicated culture. They, not Americans, seem to have conquered Space: The Final Frontier.