Proxemics(空间关系学) is the study of what governs how closely one person stands to another. People who feel close will be close, though the actual distances will vary between cultures. For Amreicans we can discern four main categories of distance: intimate, personal, social and public. Intimate ranges from direct contact to about 45 centimeters. This is for the closest relationships such as those between husband and wife. Beyond this comes personal distance. This stands at between 45 and 80 centimeters. It is the most usual distance maintained for conversations between friends and relatives. Social distance covers people who work together or are meeting at social gatherings. Distances here tend to be kept between 1.30 to 2 meters. Beyond this comes public distance, such as that between a lecturer and his audience.
All cultures draw lines between what is an appropriate and what is an inappropriate social distance for different types of relationship. They differ, however, in where they draw these lines. Look at an international reception withrepresentatives from the US and Arabic countries conversing and you will see the Americans pirouetting(快速旋转) backwards around the hall pursued by their Arab partners. The Americans will be trying to keep the distance between themselves and their partners which they have grown used to regarding as “normal”. They probably will not even notice themselves trying to adjust the distance between themselves and their partners, though they may have vague feeling that their Arab neighbors are being a bit “pushy”. The Arab, on the other hand, coming from a culture where much closer distance is the norm, may be feeling that the Americans are being “stand-offish”. Finding themselves happier standing close to and even touching those they are in conversation with they will persistently pursue the Americans round the room trying to close the distance between them.
The appropriateness of physical contact varies between different cultures too. One study of the number of times people conversing in coffee shops over a one hour period showed the following interesting variations: London, 0; Florida, 2; Paris, 10; and Puerto Rico 180. Not only dose it vary between societies, however, it also varies between different subcultures within one society. Young people in Britain, for example, are more likely to touch and hug friends than are the older generation. This may be partly a matter of growing older, but it also reflects the fact that the older generation grew up at a time when touching was less common for all age groups. Forty years ago, for example, footballers would never hug and kiss one another on the field after a goal as they do today.