A second zone, extending out beyond intimate distance
It happens so naturally that most people never even think about it, but the amount of space that they maintain between each other is not random. It depends in large measure on where you’re from and who you’re talking to. Furthermore, these distances vary from culture to culture. If you run into an acquaintance on the street and stop to ask her how her new job is going, you’ll unconsciously choose to stand a culturally specific distance from her. For Americans, it would be considered quite disconcerting to hold this sidewalk conversation with only an inch or two separating your bodies. At the other extreme, it would be strange to stand several yards away, raising your voice so that the other person can hear you. In the first case, your friend might back up a bit, and in the second, she might make a point of moving closer to you.
It turns out that this whole “how far apart do we stand” business has a name — proxemics — and it can be defined as how personal space is maintained as a function of one’s culture. The term was coined by Edward Hall in 1966 and is just one aspect of nonverbal communication. Hall interviewed large numbers of people from all over the world to see whether there was any regularity to personal distance. It might be the case, for example, that this is simply a personal idiosyncrasy, an individual difference that varies from person to person. Devotees of the American TV program “Seinfeld” may remember an episode in which Elaine’s new boyfriend, played by Judge Reinhold, is shown to be a “close talker.” Part of the episode’s humor revolved around how disconcerting this was to the other characters, culminating with Kramer falling over backward as he moved away from the close talker’s verbal assault. What Hall found, however, was a great deal of consistency about personal space. In fact, he even derived exact measurements for the size of the zones that surround an individual’s body. We will dispense with the exact numbers, but we think it’s important to summarize Hall’s four main zones of personal space.