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Ever wondered why a person parked right next to you when the whole parking lot is empty, and now you can barely open you car door? Ever gone to the movie theater and had someone sit a few seats away from you when most of the theater is empty? Ever had someone take that bathroom stall right next to yours when there’s a long row of other stalls she could have picked?

What do these people want? Are they trying to connect with you or irritate you? Don’t they know that one of the rules in American culture is to keep an arm’s distance away from a stranger?

What do these behaviors mean? Am I interpreting some of these people as rude, when really they just represent our individualistic society? And when does that individualism step over boundaries? Americans aren’t going to give up their personal space easily. Our country was founded on conquering the wild frontier.

For example, on a bus, people will go to great lengths to keeps others from sitting too close. Researcher Esther Kim of Yale University “chalked up thousands of miles of bus travel to examine the unspoken rules and behaviors of commuters.”

Here is some of the advice Kim’s fellow passengers gave her for “avoiding others”:

1. Avoid eye contact with other people.
2. Lean against the window and stretch out your legs.
3. Place a large bag on an empty seat.
4. Look out the window with a blank stare to look crazy.
5. Pretend to be asleep.

Thanks, Kim and fellow passengers, for all the tips for keeping strangers away. I’ll admit I’ve done the avoid eye contact thing. I’ll have to pretend to be asleep next time I’m on a bus. Some of these tips will work at the movie theater. Now, if I can only figure out how to translate them to the parking lot, my car and I will have it made.