IN-YOUR-Personal Space – Panama

In a world filled with almost 8 billion people, a major concern for many scientists and academics is how humanity and the environment will accommodate for the lack of resources as well as space. Space itself is a distinct aspect of each international culture. Whether high-context or low-context, the way we separate ourselves and interact in close proximity is relevant to our intercultural exchanges and communication. Throughout Panama, Boquete, and Bocas del Toro, a common theme remains presently intertwined within Panamanian interactions:  very close, proximate relationships. On trains, buses, even on the sidewalks, Panamanians are not afraid disrupt personal space boundaries or even act personally towards strangers. Some interactions common in Panama are a taboo with the United States and it is evident that American travelers to Panama are very uncomfortable without their “personal bubble.”

Compared to Panamanian affability, American social norms on interactions and proximity are strict depending on how well you are familiar with a particular individual. If you are unfamiliar with someone, are meeting in a professional setting, or are strangers, Americans take a very reserved approach to interacting with others. They will keep their distance; always ensuring proper distance between two people and maintain very formal mannerisms. Even amongst people with whom you are familiar, never do you see a friend kissing another on the cheek as a greeting, or holding hands (this is a major taboo among males in the United States). When visiting the Embera Village, space was almost obsolete between families and living quarters. Houses were open space residences without many doors and drapes to allow for privacy. Even in my experience as an American of Indian heritage, I was shocked by the tribe’s acquaintance and familiarity of one another and sense of connectedness that united the tribe as one.

It is my humbled opinion that the United States has a lot to learn in terms of space and relationships. In many foreign countries, we are known for our individuality, in our addition to the coldness that plagues our demeanor. Interacting with Panamanian students has taught me the great pleasures of close relationships and friendliness, and just how important they can be to cultivate a meaningful and comfortable environment. Though I may not be able to take this aspect of Panamanian culture back home with me, it is one of my most favorite and comforting experiences during this trip.

Space in Panama


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