The Flack

Public Toilets and Other Places Where Personal Space Matters

Posted May 30, 2013 by Ares in Pop

In his 1966 book, The Hidden Dimension, anthropologist Edward T. Hall introduced the concept of proxemics: the dimensions that surround people – and the physical distances we try to keep from others. Estimates are around 60cm side to side, 40 cm behind and 70 cm in front.

Subsequent study has revealed that the size of personal space boundaries is determined culturally. People from crowded locations have much smaller  personal space boundaries than people from sparsely populated areas.

Consider me a child of the Mongolian steppe.

My day-to-day is punctuated by internal mutterings – and more than occasional outbursts – at people invading my personal space.

Generally, offenders are clueless about their horrendous transgressions, so I feel compelled to educate. While my preferred method is real-time feedback, I have taken the time to run through some basics for the uninitiated.

If you lack spatial awareness, please read this closely. If you know people afflicted with a lack of spatial awareness, grab them by the back of the head (they won’t be far away) and shove this screen in their faces.

Thank you.

Public Toilets

If we’re dealing with individual urinals, the default is a one-urinal buffer. Amazing that this needs to be explained to anybody: a one-urinal buffer. Only when no buffer urinals remain it is acceptable to break this rule.

If it’s a trough, then leave a one-person space between urinators. If you’re unsure how to measure that space, it is one arm’s length. Warning: do not actually reach out with your arm to measure your distance from fellow urinator. Just use a guesstimate, that’ll do.

The polite thing to do with cubicles is to leave a one-cubicle buffer when possible. To intentionally use a cubicle immediately next to an occupied cubicle – when alternatives exist – is suspicious behaviour.

Under no circumstances should anyone engage in discussion while carrying out their ablutions, unless you are all drunk. People who find it acceptable to continue work conversations over a common urination – these people are odd. They should be treated accordingly.

Finally, always wash you hands. You never know who’s watching.


Yesterday, I stood solo in an elevator, riding the 30-something floors to my office. I was musing on what possibly possessed Eddie McGuire to link Adam Goodes and King Kong, when the elevator stopped to pick up a new passenger.

Passenger walked into the elevator. Apart from he and I, the elevator was otherwise unoccupied. I was in the north-west corner of the elevator, facing the doors. In other words, I was doing my civic duty. I was observing one of the key central tenets on which our modern, pluralistic society is founded: how to conduct oneself in an elevator.

Not this heathen. Oh no. If he respected our democracy, he would have stood south-east corner, facing the door.

Standing north-east, or south-west would have been less acceptable, but tolerable.

But this joker plonked himself north-north-west, like he was trying to tag me out of the game. I could smell his lunch. Subway.


In a lift, observe the compass.

Buses, Trains and Trams

No matter how empty a train, tram or bus is, I refuse to sit.

This is a lesson learned. Taking a seat on public transport is just an open ticket for weirdos to infect your life.

About five years ago, I sat alone on an empty train carriage late on a Saturday afternoon heading into the city.

At one stop, a Dungeons and Dragons dork walked onto the carriage: a carriage that is otherwise completely unoccupied.

The Apprentice Wizard spies as many as 60 unoccupied seats.

He then chooses to sit next to me.

We have ignition.

“Dude, seriously?”


“Of all the seats on this train, you choose this one? You’re kidding.”

Vacant stare.

“There are at least 60-0dd vacant seats, and you have chosen this one. Why? Why would you do that?”

“This is where I want to sit.”

“Really? Talk me though that.”

“I want to sit here.”

“Tell you what, I’ll move. Goodbye.”

Now I don’t sit. It is not worth the trouble.

Rule: On public transport, all vacant seat options must be exhausted before choosing to sit next to a stranger.


Aeroplanes are an environment that sorely test tolerance of personal space invasion.

Foremost is seat reclining. Aeroplanes provide passengers with a personal space slightly larger than that afforded bovines on the way to abattoirs.

Bearing this in mind, aeroplanes reveal there are two types of people in this world: those who give careful consideration to the question of whether to recline an airline seat, and those who have no regard for their fellow human beings and recline their seats without a second thought.

Simple rules on aeroplane seat reclining. If nobody is sitting behind you, recline away. The world is your slightly more comfortable oyster.

If somebody is sitting behind you and you recline your seat on a short-haul flight, why not jump the seat, flip down their tray table and squat on it. It’s offensive, inconsiderate and should be governed by legislation.

On long-haul flights, once the meal service has concluded, you may recline.

Other aeroplane rules: if you have a bladder akin to that of a guinea pig, then plan ahead and get a freaking aisle seat.

Final rule, if you are lucky enough to have a vacant seat or seats next to you in your row, those seats belong to you.

For someone else from another row to come and occupy any of your vacant seats is theft. Simple as that. They should be charged accordingly.



About the Author


Born about 6000 years ago, around the time Creationism tells us the Earth and Universe were made, Ares is just one offspring resulting from Zeus's extensive philandering - in this instance to the Queen of the Gods, Hera. Ares is a disputed member of the 12 Olympians who conquered the Titans under Zeus's leadership before going on to establish the modern Olympic Games. They also set in train a range of cultural practices that led to the modern Eurozone crisis. He was hated by all other gods, except the super-hot Aphrodite, with whom he was once caught in flagrante delicto. Throughout history, fellow God of War Athena was viewed as a well respected protector of cities and strategic genius. Ares is not. He is regarded as a bit player in history whose underwhelming acts are variously either overshadowed by the deeds of other gods, or punctuated by bouts of extreme violence and bloodshed. After thousands of years of disputed residence in the Pantheon of Gods, Ares followed the example of many Greeks emigrating to Australia and took up residence in a small row cottage in North Melbourne. He lives with an Anglo wife who does not cook and a son who does not look Greek. He changed football teams in adulthood, doesn't know what Apple TV is and plays suburban hockey to a mediocre standard.