Which Countries Have the Smallest Personal Space?


A study found different countries had different definitions of personal space. Nisian Hughes/Getty Images
A study found different countries had different definitions of personal space. Nisian Hughes/Getty Images

If you like to stand close to folks when you talk to them, you'll love Argentina. The South American country is filled with "close-talkers" -- people who stand 2.5 feet (0.76 meters) away from strangers when chatting. If you prefer more personal space, make your way to Romania instead. There, residents like to stand a spacious 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) away from strangers.

This info on personal "bubbles" comes from a study of preferred interpersonal distances recently published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. While this issue of personal space in different countries has been examined before, the authors of this study used a much larger data set (nearly 9,000 people living in 42 countries) than was used in previous studies. Participants were shown a picture with two figures representing two people and a line with some distances marked off in between them. The subjects were asked how close should the two figures stand together if they are strangers versus close friends versus colleagues (acquaintances). The subjects were to assume that they were one of the two figures.

The scientists found that residents of Argentina, Peru and Bulgaria stand the closest to strangers, while those from Romania, Hungary and Saudi Arabia want the most space. Americans were somewhere in the middle.

This graph shows the personal distances of people from various countries in the study.
This graph shows the personal distances of people from various countries in the study.
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology

The researchers also studied the personal bubbles we draw between ourselves and family and friends. We're all fine with our family and friends standing closer to us than strangers — no surprise there. And our general bubble size with our friends stays consistent. That is, if we like more personal space, we'll keep our friends farther away than those who are fine with less personal space.

But intriguingly, things change when it comes to close friends or loved ones. The Romanians who like a lot of personal space between themselves and both strangers and colleagues like their intimate relations to be fairly close to them — about 1.5 feet (0.45 meters). That's closer than almost any other group studied. And the Norwegians, whose preference for stranger-distance is somewhere in the middle of the 42 countries studied, want their close friends to be closer to them than any other group (about 1.3 feet or 0.4 meters).

Scientists say it appears temperature has something to do with personal space. Those living in colder climates often prefer to be quite near to their friends, perhaps as a way to stay warm. And those residing in warm climates often stand closer to strangers; at least one past study showed when it's warm, people move in closer to one another.