Riding the Subway with Stanley Kubrick (12)


Syllabification: (prox·e·mics) Pronunciation: /präkˈsēmiks/ noun [treated as singular] the branch of knowledge that deals with the amount of space that people feel it necessary to set between themselves and others.


According to proxemics, there are four different types of space that we deal with, consciously and subconsciously, on a daily basis; intimate space, personal space, social space, and public space.

Intimate space is reserved for people we consider close to us; people we like. These chosen few get to stand within 1.5 feet of us. Personal space is for acquaintances; people you like, but not too much. These people get to stand between 1.5 and 4 feet from you. Not too close. Social space is for when you don’t really know people, but you’re around them anyway. Allotted to them is the space between 4 and 12 feet. Public space is the space in which you don’t know a single person. Coffee shops and the like. In these situations we like to have between 12 and 24 feet between us and the nearest living soul.

The idea is that we use space as way to communicate with people around us all day. If you stand over four feet away from me when you talk, I assume you hate me. If I stand more than four feet away from you when I’m talking to you, I probably hate you. We spend all day every day subconsciously deciding where to place ourselves in relation to all of those other people we have the misfortune of encountering.

The man standing next to me on the bus on my way home from work pulls out a half gallon of milk when we stop in front of the Blue Mall. He opens it and takes a swig. He keeps it in his mouth for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 seconds before he swallows it. I know this because his mouth is three inches from my ear.

The woman sitting next to me on my way up the Main Street hill is wearing mismatched pink and orange socks under her Birkenstock sandals. I notice this because her foot keeps touching my bare legs. This is what proxemics would label my intimate space.

The man sitting down below me is listening to Bruce Springsteen. I know this because the metal of his iPod keeps tapping my hand.

The man to my left on my way home from class was drinking black coffee from a green hiking thermos. I know this because his gulps are being swallowed two inches from my face.

The woman on my right and the woman on my left both went to Starbucks this morning. Then they both went to Williston. The woman on the left went to Wal-Mart to buy pillows. The woman on the right went to work at the UMall. They must operate on the same schedules they think. They must take the same bus times they think. I know this because they are talking around my head. One of them has a lisp.

The woman standing behind me is sick. I feel this when she sneezes on my neck. I am in her sneeze radius, her intimate space.

The man in front of me likes my chest. I know this because he is just tall enough to stare directly down my shirt. I am too close not to notice.

I got a tattoo this week. The man to my right knows this because his cold hand keeps roughing my thigh where the skin is still tender.

I work at Healthy Living Market. The man in front of me knows this because my work bag keeps hitting his knees as the bus stops and starts and stops and starts again.

Everything I ate for lunch today had garlic in it. The women on my left and right are aware of this because they keep leaning into my breathing space.

All of these people are in my intimate space. All of these people are between zero and 1.5 feet away from me. I do not know any of these people. These people don’t even warrant the four feet that come with personal space. According to proxemics, there should be at least twelve feet between my ear and that man’s jug of milk. Twelve feet between my neck and this woman’s snot, or that woman’s sock and sandal combo. At least twelve feet between me and Bruce Springsteen.

Proxemics certainly doesn’t take into account the wonders of public transit. What a sick proxemic joke.

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