I’m sitting on the green line of the underground Metro in Milan, heading home after a few drinks with friends. It’ s definitely past rush hour, but not so late as to have a completely empty subway train. I’d say that there are about 7 or 8 of us in a compartment that holds seats for up to 55.
The train pulls up to the Garibaldi stop. The pre-recorded message announces the stop first in Italian, and then in English so bad that it might as well have been Italian. The doors open. Nobody gets off and only one guy gets on. He notes the almost completely empty train and then chooses his seat… right next to me!
Italians have a very different idea on the concept of personal space. For them, that “bubble” of security that marks one’s personal zone is either very limited or just plain non-existent.
Italians will give each other kisses on the cheek to say hello or goodbye. Friends and groups of friends (both guys and gals) can often be seen hanging out with their arms around each other or even walking arm-in-arm or hand-in-hand. Even when talking to one another, be it family member or complete stranger, Italians are much more up-in-your-face and physically “touchy”.
At first I was a little ginked out by it all. A person purposely sitting down next to me at an empty bus stop or on my bench at the park when there were 10 other empty benches used to make me think: “does this person want to have sex with me or what?”. I would often catch myself backing up slowly (horror film style) from a person as they continued to move closer and closer to me, while telling me about how their weekend went.
I’m not really sure why Italians do this. I guess it’s maybe because they don’t even think twice about personal space, or perhaps they just enjoy being surrounded by people more than Americans do.
One thing I do know is that I seem to have gotten used to it. I was on the Metro recently and I sat down next to a couple of tourists on a fairly empty train without even thinking about it. They looked at me strange and then both shifted down, in unison, to put some more space between me and them. What weirdos!