It became apparent pretty quickly that people in Spain have a very different perception of ‘personal space’ compared to what I’m used to in Australia.
Undoubtedly, the land down under is blessed with a large mass of land with a disproportionately small population allowing everyone (as my nana would say) enough room to swing a cat.
In Madrid, I have found that even if you have some space around you – a local will fill it. Even if that means leaning across you, treading on the back of your heels when you’re walking and even blatantly pushing in front of you in a queue.
Whether it be at the grocery store or waiting for the train door to open. If there is a tiny amount of space in front of you, it is fair game to the Spaniards.
For instance, in the supermarket aisle browsing over products (dealing with the tough questions – like which mayonnaise to buy ) there is always a local who will stand directly in front of you.
Directly in front of you.
With no concern that they are in the way, potentially bothering or disturbing someone else – which the Spanish call moleste by the way, and most certainly without shame!
And why should they!
That 30cm between your nose and the product you are looking for is clearly there to be occupied – particularly at the specific point in time that you are standing there. Leaning across you and jostling you out of the way, is clearly the preferred action as opposed to waiting for 30 seconds for the person standing there to be finished……
As is getting out of a train before anyone else.
There can be plenty of people, standing in the train aisle, hanging onto those silver handrails you see in trains everywhere. The train slowly pulls into the station, the crackling voice over the speakers barks proxima parada Atocha (next stop Atocha), and you reach out to push the button to open the door – and then there’s someone there. Pushing the button for you. Even though you’re clearly right there ready to go. No.idea.where.they.came.from.
But they must be off the train first. So you think they must be in a rush.
But they’re not.
They dawdle out of the station…. usually texting as they go.
And the Spanish are professional dawdlers!
Never ever get stuck behind a local when you’re in a rush. Particularly the ladies in their 50’s and 60’s wearing fur coats (yes they LOVE fur coats here), sagging stockings, dark lipstick in the red range and dark glasses (gafas de sol). As much as I would love to sit with these women in a cervesaria, drinking vino tintos and listening to their life stories, I just do not want to walk behind them on the sidewalk. Irrespective of how wide the sidewalk is. It is extremely challenging to walk around them.
The sidewalks are always full!
Any size group of people will insist on walking side by side blocking access to any other pedestrian walking behind them.
Or towards them.
On our nightly walks exploring this beautiful city, we find ourselves playing chicken with people walking towards us.
No one is prepared to move out of the way!
You can smile, you can wave, you can blatantly stare at them and stand your ground, shoulders back, chin in the air – all.to.no.avail.
As much as the Spanish are willing to fill a space, they are equally unwilling to give it up.
Even if that means people have to walk on the road, with the traffic to get around them.
If I had a euro for every time a local crashed into my arm, my bag or knocked me with their umbrella without the slightest acknowledgement or heaven forbid – an apology! – I would never have to pay to use the metro again.
Please don’t misunderstand me.
I’m not allergic to people.
Or to big cities.
On the contrary, I enjoy both immensely.
I don’t mind standing in a crowd to see these sights:
Giant praying mantis (aka Sheldon Cooper), giant spiders, glowing horses…. this is Carnival in Madrid and it is fantastic!
I have a cool video and will have to learn how to upload it!
The crowd was so happy and positive and the weather held out for us.
And….. I did find some space here:
To be fair – I had to wait a little while to get a photo without cars.
And here too:
The place to be in Madrid on a beautiful day…
The Spanish concept of personal space is not always negative either.
Two kisses to greet and meet people, a hand on your arm to acknowledge that you are speaking to each other and generally the closeness (and loudness) of people during discussions sometimes makes the Aussies seem cold and a bit stand offish.
And so I will endeavour to embrace the ‘closeness’ of the Spanish and enjoy all the kissing along the way.