What is it about the inherent social-spatial lesson that I (and what seems like most people) understand that some people just don’t get?
You probably know what I’m talking about: when you enter a space that you must share with other members of the public, such as a doctor’s office, you don’t sit down close to a stranger if there is a spot available at a “safe” distance, or one that is equidistant from other strangers. In a small room or on public transportation, it’s more acceptable to be in close proximity because there isn’t much space to begin with. But in a large room, it’s customary to allow for plenty of personal space and not crowd someone for no reason.
This afternoon, I was sitting alone in a 4-seat sitting area on the perimeter of a large atrium (4th floor Losee Center) on UVU’s campus. It’s typically quiet and somewhat out of the way except for some doors to offices nestled around the perimeter. It’s a comfortable and well-lit waiting/reading area with about 50 lounge chairs scattered about. There were a handful of other people sharing the lounge area, all appropriately scattered in their own personal spaces and keeping to themselves.
I saw a girl walk briskly out of an office in my line of sight, then turn left and step up onto the platform of my little sitting area. She proceeded to sit down directly across from me—not in the seat closest to the office door, but in what I considered to be Directly In My Zone given the ample number of unoccupied seats otherwise available. Without saying a word to me or looking directly at me, she started reading the textbook in her hand.
And chomping her gum. Open-mouthed and all.
She might as well have sat directly on my lap and farted.
I initially gave her the benefit of the doubt—maybe she was just waiting for a minute until being called back into the office. But the chomping. Oh. My. God. And after a minute, it was clear that she was getting comfortable and would not be going anywhere.
My laptop was open, my feet were resting on the coffee table between us, and I was trying to do homework. I considered reaching into my bag for headphones so I wouldn’t have to listen to the chomping, but no. Why should I have to expend effort to accommodate my needs when she was the one violating the social norms of personal space and being rude by chomping gum in a quiet area?
Instead, I returned the gesture of hostility by playing a CNN video at a reasonable volume through my laptop speakers. It was an interview with a couple whose home had recently been broken into by a facebook friend and had been caught on film—there were some parts I just didn’t quite catch so I had to rewind a bit and adjust the volume. Nobody else was within earshot, I’m sure. I watched the girl shift in my peripheral vision, slightly distracted from her reading by my shared audio.
After a couple minutes, she stood up. She walked toward the center of the atrium and took a spot that was, in my opinion, an acceptable distance from others.
Pleased with my passive aggressive territory defense, I shut off the video and went back to homework.