NPR did a segment on physical closeness, a topic covered in Chapter 2 on intercultural communication. The inspiration was two recent incidents in the news:
- At her husband's swearing in as secretary of defense, Stephanie Carter experienced Vice President Joe Biden's hands on her shoulders while he whispered into her ear.
- At the Oscars, John Travolta put a hand on Scarlett Johansson's waist, leaning in for a kiss. To make up for last year's embarrassment, Travolta was face to face with Idina Menzel, touching her chin.
We know that social distance is farther in the United States than in other countries. At 3 or 4 feet, we're seen as cold: "That's just frigid; that's like an icicle," according to one Cuban immigrant.
While touching behaviors vary by culture, the NPR article speculates that coming up from behind someone, as Joe Biden did, is seldom a good idea.
- Have you ever felt uncomfortable with someone's physical distance in a social setting? What were the circumstances?
- Have you ever noticed someone else backing away or trying to move closer to you in a work setting?
- What's your view of touching at work?