Personal Space Bubbles

As young as probably daycare (if not earlier), I remember being taught not to touch other people without their permission. It seems like a weird thing to have to bring up, but something happened at work today that bothered me enough to write a reflective blog post about it, so here I am.

Generally speaking, I try to stay out of other people’s bubbles. Most of what I do is customer service, and I like to avoid doing anything that would make anyone feel uncomfortable–and also, I hope that if I don’t invade other people’s personal space, maybe they won’t invade mine.

(Obviously, this isn’t a strict rule; my friends and I can be pretty physical displaying affection for one another, and sometimes if someone’s injured or whatever, you might need to step in and help them regardless of whether or not you’d normally touch other people.)

I was helping someone who I don’t know (and might never see again), and when I found what he had been looking for, he poked me in the shoulder pretty hard. It wasn’t as though he had meant to point at the screen and my shoulder was in the way–who hasn’t accidentally done that? He wasn’t trying to get my attention, since he already had it (I have had someone do that, too, and while an “Excuse me” would always be better, even that’s somewhat understandable).

I wish I could articulate exactly why this is bothering me so much. It’s not even that I hate being touched by other people; sometimes if you’ve built up a rapport with a customer, you’ll get a hand on your shoulder or something like that, and I actually enjoy that kind of contact. Maybe it’s because, particularly when it’s older woman or an elderly gentleman, there’s nothing mean about it. This is how people communicate. (I feel like I’m writing like an alien trying to observe human culture.) Besides, in those cases it feels almost good; I think Americans in general are touch-starved, and something like needing a little bit of support because you’re laughing at a particularly good joke or wanting to really express, “Thank you for helping me, I trust you,” by way of a good shoulder clap fits that need. Even if it’s not something I would ever initiate, it’s not an inherently uncomfortable thing.

Being poked–especially by a middle aged man who I don’t even know–felt intrusive and bad. That’s it. I don’t like being poked in general, and when I’m not expecting to be touched it makes me upset. Does it matter that it was an older white man? Maybe, since I have had extremely negative encounters with other older white men while working customer service before, but the idea that anyone feels like it’s okay to just touch anyone else without their permission–or without having had an actual conversation besides, “Do you have this book? I only know the first name of the author, and what do you mean ‘Lauren’ is a common woman’s name?” isn’t alright, and more often than not, I have experienced unwanted physical (and verbal, etc) attention from men rather than women.

Since I don’t have to wear a polyester shirt emblazoned with the company logo at this job, I’m slightly less likely to have dehumanizing situations (when you get to wear real people clothes, customers are less likely to see you as an extension of a cash register or terminal, I think), but it was just an uncomfortable situation regardless. I don’t go to your job and poke you, so why would you go to mine and poke me?

In any case, I guess this is just a really long-winded rant about being made uncomfortable at work, and also a plea that if you don’t know a person, don’t assume they’re going to be comfortable being touched.


Author: jillboger

Part time writer. Editor-in-Chief for the Bridge volume 13, former EIC for The Odyssey at BSU. My glasses protect my secret identity.

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