For many Latin Americans, greeting friends, acquaintances, and even strangers with a hug and a kiss is common practice. For the uninitiated, however, these customs may be jarring, so perhaps going to a place like Argentina – where personal space is scarce – may result in quite the culture shock. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Argentines need the least amount of personal space when interacting with strangers and acquaintances. Looking at 9,000 people in 42 countries, researchers analyzed how closely people around the world stand in relation to others. They found that Argentines are comfortable standing a mere 31 inches away from strangers. People from Romania, Hungary, and Saudi Arabia require the most personal space.
Though the study showed that weather accounts for some of these spatial differences, The Telegraph wanted to get to the bottom of why Argentines are so comfortable with strangers. And though not backed by science, the article does explore how Argentines view personal space. And according to the people interviewed, in Argentina, standing further away can make someone appear rude or tense.
Tango dancer Naomi Hotta, for example, noted that when she works with dancers from other cultures, the first thing you have to teach them to let loose. “People are not used to embracing somebody, so they tend to get nervous,” she told The Telegraph. “Here, when I taught a beginner Argentinian guy, he had no problem whatsoever embracing. I realised then that it is part of the culture, it comes more naturally for these people who tend to be more close to each other.”
That’s why when Argentine tango instructor Alejandro Gée first attended a party in the United States, he felt confused by the increased personal space. “When I went to my first party in the US, no one said hello,” he said. “It’s like you don’t exist. Then maybe an hour later someone comes over and says, ‘hey what’s up.’ For an hour this person didn’t acknowledge your presence. So I was shocked until I learned that it was a cultural thing. When you’re at a party in Argentina, you go and say hi to everyone and kiss them, even if you don’t know them. You can’t just sit down, people would think it’s rude or that you don’t want to talk.”