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Advanced proxemics

Updated: May 25


„COVID-19 certainly does ask a lot from us. Maybe the hardest part is the uncertainty.“ Photo by Aron Ingi Guðmundsson

I might be forcing an open door here, but I’m going to throw it to you anyway. A big portion of what you consider to be your unique personality, is actually made up of the culture you grew up in. This includes little behaviourisms you don’t even think about. That is, until you are directly being faced with someone who portrays ‘unnormal’ behaviour towards you. Like for example that one Erasmus friend who does stand really close to you when talking, or worse, gives you an unexpected kiss on the cheek. The opposite of this example has been in our face a lot lately. I see you ‘social distancing’. It proves to be awkward to stand apart one meter and a half when talking.

Apparently, this whole issue of ‘how far apart do we stand’ has a name: Proxemics. However, it is more than just a fancy name for ‘privacy bubble’. Proxemics is the science of how population density affects human behaviour, communication and social interaction. This whole idea has been defined by Edward T. Hall; and like any good anthropologist he nerded out on the subject and developed a model.

More interestingly, he did prove that what most of us already know after travelling abroad: where you stand when you talk is highly depended on culture.


For some reason it is the people from Romania who have the largest privacy bubble. On the other end of the spectrum you have the South-Americans, more specifically Argentina. Only the people on the London subway appear to need less personal space. Of course, when you zoom in on Europe, you can’t ignore the clichés, with South-Europe and Scandinavia concluding the extremes on the proxemics spectrum. For some reason it is Finland who comes to my mind first in the contest for largest personal space. But then again, most of what I know of Finnish culture comes from ‘Very Finnish Problems’.


I have no doubt population density plays a role. With only 3 people per square kilometre, Iceland wins the Scandinavian contest. So, it must be fairly easy to master these COVID-19 regulations of quarantine and social distancing? Turns out it still has an impact. Family is very important to the Icelandic. Not being able to see each other, especially when living already remotely, is hard.


Many places have closed down and topped with extreme travel restrictions all over the world, the economic impact also can’t be ignored. Iceland is still one of the most tourism dependent countries on earth.

This does teach us a very important lesson, what is most important in the world. Your loved ones. Keeping them save at all cost. As it turns out, the recent snow records are perfectly timed. Nothing helps social distancing better than two meters of snow between you and everything else.

COVID-19 certainly does ask a lot from us. Maybe the hardest part is the uncertainty. Luckily that is an area in which the Icelandic excel, dealing with the unexpected and never plan anything too far ahead. Þetta reddast.


Texti: Ellen Wild


#Proxemics #Covid19 #EllenWild