Episode 53:  How do "norteamericanos" use space compared to latinos?

Are Americans Rigid or Cold?

Recently, Gabo and Goyo sat for an interview with Sara, the owner of HandySpanish.com.  In the interview, she stated how surprised she was to see yards (patios o jardines) with no "vallas," or fences, to mark the edges of properties (https://youtu.be/gqA6ecLLqjY?si=t8UR4GKcIfkFhttps://noterindaspodcast.us/episode/episode-52-bilingual-episode-entrevistamos-a-sara-de-handyspanish-comparamos-la-cultura-de-valencia-espana-con-la-de-el-sur-de-eeuu, ~minute 7).  How do pedestrians or neighbors know where to step when walking in a neighborhood?  Gabo and I, both Americans, stated that there is a general understanding that in the US you don't step where you believe that someone else's property begins.  Sara is from Valencia, in southeastern Spain.  Apparently, this difference is also an issue for some Mexicans:

When Mexicans visit the United States, they often marvel at
the open lawns between homes. The Mexican wonders,
“How do they know where their property stops
and their neighbor’s begins?” Americans know. We
know exactly where to mow, don’t we? (Crouch, 2004,
pp. 321-322)

two houses side by side

This is not the only difference noted by guests to our podcast.  In episode 53, we interviewed two highly well traveled Mexican Spanish teachers, Diego and Efra, about how they perceive Americans' use of personal space.  Diego makes reference (https://noterindaspodcast.us/episode/episode-53-intermediate-english-we-ask-our-mexican-friends-if-norteamericanos-are-warm-or-cold-people-episodio-bilingue-con-mextalki-que-compara-los-de-eeuu-y-canada-con-mexicanos, ~minute 28) to how a crowded subway car will cause patrons in Canada to wait for the next train (porque está "llenísimo") and that patrons in Mexico will fill up a car until they are "pecho a pecho", looking up at the ceiling. 

Diego also talks about how Mexican personal space is quite a bit smaller than that of other cultures, and this same tendency is referenced in this book chapter:

Americans’ individual space is quite well defined,
though most of us don’t realize it. The correct face-to-
face distance between American men is one arm’s
length, less the hand. The distance woman-to-woman
is a bit closer than man-to-man. If you are a man, the
next time you’re at a cocktail party or convention, try
moving one-half step closer to the man you’re talking
to. You will see him avert his eyes, shift his feet, turn
sideways, and finally take a half step back. He won’t
be conscious of his own actions. You then take another
half step closer. He will repeat his backward
shuffle. Keep it up, and you could waltz him around
the room and out the door.
Understanding the different boundaries of personal
space is important when doing business. In the
United States, if a woman were to move a little closer
to a man, he may interpret the narrowing of space as
an invitation to flirt, which would be taboo in the
workplace. If a Mexican woman stands closer to an
American male, however, it is not a come-on. In fact,
it means nothing of the sort. Her circle of personal
space is simply smaller, or less acutely felt than his.
Men and women generally stand closer in Mexico (Crouch, 2004).

If you are a Spanish speaker seeking to learn English and interact with Americans, it is worth noting that Americans have a more-defined sense of both personal and residential space.  With observation and practice, you will learn and navigate these differences.  ¡No ee rindas!

Other Resources and Works Cited


Crouch, N. (2004). Mexicans and Americans: A different sense of space. Intercultural Communication: A Reader. (Larry A. Samovar, Richard E. Porter, Edwin R. McDaniel, eds.) 13th edition, USA, 2012, 189-197.

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