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The Personal Space

Are you used to cheek kissing people to greet them ? Time to quit and relearn the greeting techniques ! In America, people need space and a regular cheek kissing is definitely infringing the minimum personal space rule.

Let's dig a bit

Personal Space 101

Quick definition : personal space is the physical space needed to feel comfortable either interacting or just to stand alone. It varies depending on the relationship between people of course, gender, age ... and it varies A LOT by culture. As you expect, in the USA, personal space is larger than in latin cultures.

I tried to find out why. Different theories came to my mind : is it because the country / the cars / the chairs / the office / everything is large so why not enjoying the space? because they are scared of germs ? because people in general would not bath so unless you know them, let’s not risk it (I thought that it was french people who had that reputation…) ?

Office techniques - greeting

The cheek kissing is absolutely not appropriate in the USA. Never is the norm. Forget it. Colleagues, friends : no one. International friends, depends. Keep it for your kids, your really close friends and apparently for dog it is fine too.

3 greeting options depending on the occasion :

  1. Shake hands when you meet people for the first time - and back off 1 arm away

  2. Wave / say hello / ask how you are doing and - and stay 1 arm away

  3. Hug your friends - and see depending on the context.

I learned the rule but I failed to apply it several times. Quitting habits is hard. The way I failed was sneakier than what you might think : I did not do the mistake when I met people at first, I did it once I considered these people kind of closer than just random people. Remember : never !

My challenge was that I did not master the option 2 and 3 of the greeting options so it was easy to go down the forbidding cheek kissing path. I got the option 2 - wave - pretty fast but the option 3 - hugging - took me a while to be comfortable with. After all kissing does not need that much body interaction while hugging, well, when you do not know, can be tricky and weird. Little guide below in the link section for hug beginners.

Office techniques - meeting rooms

Little tip here. If you are organizing a meeting with americans : take a room twice the size of what you would take in France or you take the risk to make them uncomfortable.

I was surprised at first but yes, people just need more space to feel good and they do not mind having half of the room empty and being far away. Numerous time I had one person standing at the other side of the meeting room and I felt bad, I thought that they did not want to be here, that they did not care or whatever not that positive thought but not at all, it was totally ok.

Just provide space so that everyone find the space they need.

So based on that

Now I find it weird to kiss people on the cheek, I love hugging and how cool it is to have space in life !

Personal space findings

Onboarding guide to personal space rules

How to greet people in the US