Space is defined as the flow and shift of distance between people as they interact and communicate.

The Space Between

Americans today have gradually grown more attached to the bubble of invisible space that surrounds them. Woe unto him, or her, who crosses that imaginary line and steps into the highly valued and highly protected area deemed "personal space." In similar individualistic cultures, such as Germany, England, and Australia, personal space is viewed as sacred. Members of these cultures may take on an aggressive manner when their space is violated. When communicating with people from cultures with highly valued personal space, it is important to note personal boundaries and take care not to cross them. The failure to do so may have disastrous results.

In other cultures, however, the perception of personal space is very different. Members of Arab cultures hold conversations in very close proximity and often touch each other while they talk. Africans will come extremely close to people, even strangers, when speaking. And in Mexico, the distance between two people in conversation is in deep contrast to the distance held across the American border. In communication with members of these societies, it may become necessary to allow them into your personal space in order to avoid offending them.

Another aspect of intercultural communication is touch. Touch is one of the earliest human senses to fully mature. A single touch can communicate as much as an entire paragrapgh of words. As we grow, we begin to learn the norms, or rules, of touch as governed by our society. Different cultures have different ideas about what touch is appropriate and what touch is not.


People in Europe, Portugal, and Arab countries often greet each other with a kiss. Americans, on the other hand, prefer a nice firm handshake. In Asia, people avoid touch as much as possible. Some members of the Hindu religion will show respect by touching the feet.

The differences in space and touch among cultures reflects each society's attitudes and values. Understanding and appreciating these differences is vital to successful intercultural communication.


Space and Touch | Power Distance | Body Movement and Gesture | Bibliography | Home |

Site created by Amanda Patton,
Last updated: 17 April, 2002
© copyright 2002 Amanda Patton