Public Toilets and Other Places Where Personal Space Matters
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.
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.
“Of all the seats on this train, you choose this one? You’re kidding.”
“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.