Hey you, get off of my cloud!
As a slightly claustrophobic person I don’t like crowded spaces, being strapped to a gurney, or caving (although I did enter my first cave in Fuzine this summer). Those of us who have been to Europe before are well-aware of other drivers following or cut in so close, leaving very little space. Since I’ve moved to Croatia, such intrusion of my personal space is not limited to highways only. I find myself feeling just a little uncomfortable quite often.
The first noticeable infraction of this American’s personal space was on a river’s edge. I was sitting on a rock with my feet cooling in the beautiful turquoise waters. Since it was a hot day, the river was crowded, but still there were plenty of rocks to sit on. Along came a lady wearing a white bikini and sat down only 2 inches from me. There were times in my life when I would have been thrilled with this situation, but my wife was standing right behind me. I thought this scantily clothed lady sat on the rock just to brace herself while getting in the water; but she just sat there, enjoying the scenery. A thumbnail sketch of what my mind was quietly saying: why are you sitting so close to me?, if you are going to start a conversation please say something, lady what in the hell do you want?, does she think I’m hot but doesn’t know that my wife was standing there (you can stop laughing now…it could happen). I glanced over my shoulder at my wife to see her looking directly at me, giggling. That was it for me. I couldn’t take it any longer, so I did the only thing that any red blooded (married) man would have done - I stood up and walked away…confused.
There have been other examples of my personal space being under attack. There was a time in a store checkout line where the guy behind me stood so close to me that every time he moved he bumped my back pack. I won’t go into what was going through my mind this time. As an American who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, I wanted to check my backpack to make sure he wasn’t taking stuff out of it, but I thought that would be an obvious sign that I didn’t trust him. For the first time in my life I was happy it was my turn to pay and get away from this space invader. In such situationa, I find rescue in reminding myself that little to no personal space is normal in Europe.
Normal or not in my new home country, it still weirds me out. However, such cultural differences are exactly what I’ve always been curious about and wanted to learn more. I am certainly learning and finding some much-needed levity in the process. When moving or even just travelling to another country, it is best to pack your sense of humor where it is easily accessible, as it is much needed to maintain your sanity. I wonder if Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote "Get off of my cloud"while touring Europe?