Spacing Rituals

When a person claims a space or an area among strangers, such as a seat at the cinema, a place at the conference table or a towel hook at the squash court, he does it in a very predictable manner. He usually looks for the widest space available between two others and claims the area in the centre. At the cinema he will choose a seat that is halfway between the end of a row and where the nearest person is sitting. At the squash courts, he chooses the towel hook that is in the largest available space, midway between two other towels or midway between the nearest towel and the end of the towel rack. The purpose of this ritual is not to offend the other people by being either too close or too far away from them.

At the cinema, if you choose a seat more than halfway between the end of the row and the nearest other person, that other person may feel offended if you are too far away from him or he may feel intimidated if you sit too close, so the main purpose of this spacing ritual is to maintain harmony.

An exception to this rule is the spacing that occurs in public toilet blocks. Research shows that people choose the end toilets about 90 per cent of the time and, if they are occupied, the midway principle is used.

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