One interesting characteristic that varies among cultures is personal territory. This is the distance strangers have to be from you for you to be comfortable. For the United States, the average preferred personal territory is 18 inches. This is one reason we chose handshakes as a common greeting – the reach puts us generally about 18 inches from each other.
Our personal territory standards affect many things, from how close we will stand when in line to the odd arrangements that occur with people on an elevator. It also has a direct impact on the seating in any home. Have you noticed that some seats in your home are used frequently while others are ignored? Or that a sofa that could easily hold three tends to have only two people sitting on it? Take a look at the photo below. Even though there is space on the sofa, two of the four people watching the baseball game chose to sit on the floor rather than sit too close to someone else.
Take a look at your home’s seating areas with personal territory in mind. Are some of your chairs too close together or too far apart? Aim for an average 18-inch distance and you may get more people sitting than you did before. An area rug can provide an easily defined floor area to enable you to arrange your seating at the best distance.
In a dining room or at a kitchen snack bar, plan for 18 inches of space between seats and you will see a more comfortable group of people. You may even want to plan the size of the guest list to match the party space.
If you have a multi-cultural guest list, you can allow your guests to define their own comfortable personal space by providing a variety of floor pillows or light movable chairs. This will enable everyone to find the distance that suits them.
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