I am lucky enough to live in the English countryside and although I am frequently in London for meetings or travelling worldwide for The English Manner, I suppose it is not often nowadays that I am standing in a large crowd of people or waiting in anything other than an orderly, still very British, queue at a checkout or in line for service.
It struck me yesterday evening, whilst waiting for my daughter and her friend to return from a travelling vacation in India, how those who live and work in this country appear to have lost their awareness of the etiquette of personal space. Yes, there is an etiquette for it!
The world is getting smaller and more crowded and the closer our paths cross with others the more important it must become to ensure that we feel safe and respected. That could be on a pavement or in an airport concourse, moving through doorways and in and out of buses, trains, lifts and any public space.
When teaching people to enter a room and network, my first rule is ‘stop look and listen’. Be aware of the people around you, yet last night not one person waiting for their colleagues or loved ones seemed to be aware of anyone else in the same situation. People were oblivious to the fact that by waving their name card in the air straight into my face or at the back of my head, that they were not only standing too close but were actually being a menace! I am only 5’6” tall and fairly slight, but am I really that insignificant? Don’t I command any thought that perhaps I too needed to see across the barrier and crowd to be able to identify the girls coming through? The so called etiquette expert was in a dilemma, having leaned away as far as I could and shifted position several times, I wondered if I should just come right out and say something, but wary of making a scene and having to explain why I needed more space to peer into the revolving doors without having my head knocked off by their arms, I instead retreated, cowed, to another position further along the line.
Then of course the usual bug bear of earphones and obsessive checking of mobiles kicked in – too easy now for us to be totally absorbed in checking emails and texts whilst being unaware of anyone around us and also where we are standing or worse still walking with heads down! Stop it, please!
If walking in a crocodile or a line, we were always taught to keep up just as we are told when driving to keep up with the traffic. A good rule to follow and again, the mobile phone users take note: don’t suddenly stop in the street or in a crowded area and check your damn phone! Move to one side and be aware of your surroundings. When on the phone give yourself space. Apart from the safety aspect, do we all really need to listen to you telling your friend what you are having for dinner?
Allow others to come through a door or exit a taxi or a lift before you try to get in. Hold a lift door or a heavy door instead of pretending not to notice or perhaps even worse, not noticing. If you are standing near a lift button, ask your fellow travellers which floor they need instead of making them squeeze past you to press the required button.
Personal space is a term used to define the physical distance between two people in a social, family or business environment. It is an invisible shield, formed around you to create a distance, and is important not only for privacy and security, but for our own feeling of personal safety now too. Years ago I was mugged on my way back from the office to home just a mile or so away on foot; since I was approached from behind and held at knifepoint, I have been highly aware of anyone coming up close behind me from that day. I realise that has perhaps made me a bit paranoid, but the rule of thumb applies: the comfort zone is a few feet unless you know someone exceptionally well. So everyone, let’s try to keep a distance of 3-10 feet for public spaces and if crowds allow, 4-12 feet is best. And, whilst we are on the subject, don’t tailgate on the airport slip road either; we all want to get home too!