personal distance

Body contact and personal space in the United States

Body contact and personal space in the United States shows considerable similarities to that in northern and central European regions, such as Germany, the Benelux, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. The main difference is, however, that Americans like to keep more open space in between themselves and their conversation partners (roughly compared to 2 to in Europe). Greeting rituals tend to be the same in these regions and in the United States, consisting of minimal body contact which often remains confined to a simple handshake. In 1966 Anthropologist Edward Hall identified four different zones of personal space Americans like to keep around them:

  • Intimate distance: extends roughly 18 inches (45.7 cm) from the individual and is reserved for family, pets and very close friends. Displays of affection and comforting are commonly conducted within this space. The only strangers an individual typically accepts within his or her intimate space are health care professionals (and prostitutes).
  • Personal distance: extends 4 to 5 feet (1.2 - 1.5 meters) is reserved for friends and acquaintances. A handshake will typically place strangers at least 2 to apart, preserving the personal distance.
  • Social distance: extends from about 4 to 12 feet (1.2 - 3.7 meters) and is used for formal, business and other impersonal interactions such as meeting a client.
  • Public Space: extends more than 12 feet (3.7 m) and is not guarded. Secret Service agents will commonly attempt to ensure of open space around dignitaries and high ranking officials.


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