Definition of personal space noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary


personal space

BrE BrE//ˌpɜːsənl ˈspeɪs//
; NAmE NAmE//ˌpɜːrsənl ˈspeɪs//
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the space directly around where you are standing or sitting He leaned towards her and she stiffened at this invasion of her personal space. Culturepersonal spacePersonal space can be imagined as a kind of bubble surrounding a person that protects their privacy and which other people may not normally enter. The amount of space people need to feel around them is different in every culture, though British and American people have similar ideas about how much it should be. People from cultures that like a lot of personal space feel awkward and embarrassed when somebody comes too close to them and try to move away; people who need less personal space are often offended when others seem to want to keep them at a distance.The amount of personal space people need also depends on several other factors. People of the same sex may sit or stand closer to each other than to somebody of the opposite sex. Strangers and casual acquaintances usually need more space than friends and members of the same family who know each other well. But in a noisy street people may need to stand closer in order to hear each other, and in underground trains in the rush hour in London people have to stand squashed together but they still try to respect each other's space as far as possible. Some British people avoid sitting next to strangers on buses and if there are lots of empty seats they choose one by itself.For a private conversation Americans need at least a foot/30 centimetres between each other, and British people more. Distances as great as 5 feet/1.5 metres may also seem comfortable. Standing too close to somebody when you are talking to them may be seen as a sign of aggression. Allowing somebody to get very close and enter your personal space may be a sign of trust or love.British people, especially older people, tend to avoid touching or being physically close to people outside their own family. Americans are only a little more comfortable about touching each other. When people meet for the first time they shake hands and let go quickly and move back. In formal situations they may also shake hands when they say goodbye though they often avoid doing this. Younger people are less worried about keeping their distance and may often hug each other when they meet or say goodbye. Women often greet members of their family with a hug (= putting their arms round each other) or kiss on one cheek, and may also greet friends in this way. They also hug and kiss each other when saying goodbye. But they rarely hold hands or link arms with each other when walking along. Some men are embarrassed about kissing members of the family or children in public. They may shake hands but often simply nod and smile. Men rarely touch their friends unless to shake hands or slap them on the back in congratulation.
See the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary entry: personal space