Magic Number 3

I often mention on here how much we love traveling in order to experience new ways of being and living. In a lot of ways our expectation is to always find ways that other places are unique and different from the U.S.A. One way we thought Santiago was different and unique is the much smaller personal space bubble given to you by Santiagoans (ians? onites?).

But then we remembered feeling the same way about Argentina. And France. And definitely Italy and Thailand. Sometimes Germany. Holy cow, even England in some circumstances.

Don't let the smile fool invader!
Even in Greece...don't let the smile fool invader!

We had a sneaking suspicion. Could it be that it’s not everywhere else that’s different? Could it be…gulp…us?


America, ladies and gentleman, is unique and different and distinct.

Maybe not in ways that you think – for instance, I think our food is, for better or worse, international. I mean it says something when you offer to cook a “typical American dinner” for your German guests and find yourself stuck over deciding between pasta and fajitas. I challenge you to find a uniquely American dish!

Side note: Burgers, the rare American food, were not an option in Australia as the meat was just too damn expensive. I guess we could’ve made Brinner…but that felt like cheating.

But there is one way in particular that I feel America really and truly is unique in this world…or at least is part of the minority. I realize that what I’m about to write is not a revelation. In fact it’s probably very sad that I am just now having this epiphany.


America. Has. Space.

Lots of it.

What’s more? Americans tend to abide by the unspoken “3 foot rule” leaving most of us oblivious that this ‘social norm’ is actually not so norm elsewhere in the world.

Maybe you don’t think we have so much space when you’re on your daily commute to work and the highway is jam-packed with oversized vehicles. Or when you find a new dink on your car after parking in absurdly “small” parking spaces at said work place. (You mean my Ford F150 with cab extension won’t fit?!). But, in general, it seems that at home we have a wider area of space we can selfishly claim as our own which others see and know not to cross into.

How's that for compact parking?
How's that for compact parking?

As Adam and I were riding the subway in Santiago we brushed up against this realization again…personal space bubbles in other countries are much smaller.

And by brushed I do mean literally. Armpits, elbows, various other body parts that you typically wouldn’t be touching on a stranger, all shoved inside that magic number 3 much to my discomfort. Thanks subways during rush hour!

It’s shocking to be reminded how much I treasure my personal space. Sure, some circumstances – like a Santiago subway during rush hour – are given a pass no matter where you’re at. Being in an otherwise uncrowded space and you can still feel condensation on your shoulder due to your neighbor’s breath? No thank you. The States, like no other country, value and take for granted that magical 3 foot bubble which shrinks as soon as you step off of American soil.

Get comfy
Get comfy

Take my advice: when you’re in another country that inner guard dog that snarls at individuals who deign to invade your space on/in a *insert public space here* is better left at home. Embrace the experience, which more often than not will come with various body parts of complete strangers.  Who knows, maybe you’ll meet a new best friend, or the local groper, or the strangely bold individual who defies a whole other set of social norms by staring at you…even though his nose is only inches away from your forehead.

Sir, haven’t you noticed that I am far too busy helping this old lady hold her purse with my elbow while using my knee to prevent this other gentleman from falling every time the metro screeches to a halt to return your creepy stare?

Awkwardness ensued, discomfort was conquered, and I became a little more appreciative of the few countries who still abide by the magic number 3.


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