Varying cultures have different comfort zones as far as personal space in public places. Americans generally prefer to keep a small buffer zone around them, which can lead to some interesting interactions in cramped places with lots of people like public trains and buses.
Yale sociologist Esther Kim was studying these sorts of human interactions and decided to do a little research, so she rode coach buses for three years to gather data about the techniques people use to avoid each other in places where space is at a premium. She logged thousands of miles on buses and studied people’s habits and interviewed them about the kinds of techniques they use to keep the seat next to them empty. These strategies included things like avoiding eye contact, pretending to be asleep and employing something called “the hate stare.”
How far will you go for a little extra space? How close is too close when it comes to strangers?
Esther C. Kim, Yale Ph.D. candidate in Sociology; she did the research featured in the article in Wired