Some people are very touchy. Literally. Some others preferred to keep at least an arms-length distance from everyone at all times, and may freak out if hugged or even tapped on the shoulder. Most babies are born with the desire for touch, to be held and comforted, and if the parent(s) is/are not completely sadistic, will oblige to the child’s wants. As one gets older though, he/she is weaned off from getting everything he/she wants, and picked up less, etc. We eventually learn about “personal space” and what kind of physical touch is acceptable between strangers, acquaintances, friends, and family.
In the U.S., with a general individualistic culture, we take our personal space very personally. Whenever possible, we try to keep as much distance from the next person (ex. not sitting next to the only person on an otherwise empty subway car, or male restroom etiquette for using urinals). It’s interesting to actively think about something that seems so innate or common sense, when it is in fact not. I had a bit of culture shock, when I visited China a few years back, and found that people will pass right next to you on the sidewalk when there is so much space around. At first I was nervous that they were pickpocket-ers, then I realized that that’s just how people in China are socialized. It may be due to the large population that is usually packed like sardines, or possibly influenced by their communal culture which doesn’t quite have the ideal of personal space (since most stuff is shared).
In the two videos above, Andrew and Jacqueline Hales (siblings) conduct a social experiment of walking close to random people and holding their hands to see their reactions. The results are hilarious. First you think, “Man, that’s ballsy” and see most people react instinctively by flinching or retracting their hands with a “WTH?!” face. Then there are the few that go along with it. The conversations and puzzled faces that follow are most fascinating!
Imagine the relations we could have with people if we didn’t have so many learned social inhibitions.