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The Touch Greeting
Latin Name: Greetus Touchus Physicus
The greeter enters the physical “personal” space of another and, before saying anything, lightly places their hand on the other’s back… akin to how the ghost of one’s dead grandmother would attempt to get one’s attention. This is, as you can imagine, very spooky.
The greeted doesn’t, at first, know who’s behind them. And then, when they do, there’s an awkward jolt.
Proxemics is the study of personal space, and I bet proxemics experts have a field day with their studies of modern office behavior. How frequently have you felt the weirdness of a personal space violation – or wondered whether your co-worker will appreciate, or call HR because of, a hug?
Significant credit goes to one Edward T. Hall (and possibly a generation of unrecognized graduate students!) for developing the field of proxemics. Hall classified four proximal distances: intimate, personal, social and public (1966, p. 114). The discomfort marked by the touch greeting is such that an acquaintance (normally kept at bay, the social proximity a few feet away) breaks into the personal proximity (about 1.5 feet away). This is understood as a transgression by those in some situations, e.g., some American office environments.
An additional (interesting) tidbit from Halls’ work is thus:
“Likewise, husbands returning from work often find themselves sitting and relaxing… for at this distance a couple can engage each other briefly and disengage at will. Some men discover that their wives have arranged the furniture back-to-back… [a] seating arrangement is an appropriate solution to minimum space because it is possible for two people to stay uninvolved if that is their desire” (Hall, 1966, p. 123).
I guess that’s what we do with office cubes, eh?
Hall, E. T. (1963). A system for the notation of proxemic behavior. American anthropologist, 65(5), 1003-1026.
Hall, E. T. (1966). The hidden dimension.