Why desis find it hard to keep their distance

What is it exactly that makes desis the most frequent offenders of personal space in a public setting?

This weekend Nutella, the world’s most beloved cocoa-hazelnut spread, turned 50. As part of the celebrations, it had a booth set up in an atrium at The Dubai Mall, where – if you sang Happy Birthday – it would give you a commemorative jar of the spread, personalised with your name on it. As huge fans, my husband and I made our way there on the last day and, as expected, found a line of approximately 50 other fans, who were all there for the same thing.

Dutifully, we lined up for what the promoters told us would be an hour-long wait. We didn’t mind waiting in line. What we did mind was the lady standing behind us.

The lady in question belonged to the infamous tribe of “close standers”. While everyone else in line kept a respectful arm’s-length distance between each other, she was standing so close to us that she bumped into us every few seconds. Withering glances and loud sighs didn’t do the trick and I finally had to tell her to keep her distance, at which she assumed a hurt puppy expression and sulked until we were finished.

I wasn’t surprised to note that she was – as I find the majority of close-standers to be – desi.

Lining up at the bank is always a trying exercise if I end up behind a fellow desi. Trips to the grocery store often end with someone breathing down my neck at the checkout. At least I have a strategy for the immigration queue at airports: I put my bag down on the floor a foot behind me, so that the person behind me can’t get too close without having to stumble over the bag. It works.

So what is it exactly that makes desis the most frequent offenders of invading personal space in a public setting?

My dad says it has to do with the density of population in our countries. That there are so many people packed into such few square feet, that we never developed the “imaginary hula hoop” sensibility (imagine a hula hoop around every person, as a mark of their personal space, which you are not allowed to enter). We don’t do hula hoops; we do stomachs pressed into backs.

The fact that close-standing didn’t bother me as much when I was living back home lends credibility to my dad’s theory. I remember standing in bus queues with people pushing in from all sides and not being bothered. But since I moved here, I am all about the hula hoops.

If you are, too, and end up with a close-standing desi behind you, your best bet (and the most non-confrontational solution) is to give up your place in line to them so that you’re standing behind them. Problem solved.

If you don’t want to lose your place in line, then nothing short of a direct confrontation will do. There’s not much in the way of subtle hints that will work here, because from their point of view, they are not doing anything wrong. If anything, they are doing the right thing by squeezing in as close as possible and thus contributing to the illusion of a shorter queue while also eliminating the space that a queue jumper could potentially take advantage of.

Just take a deep breath and politely ask them to leave some distance, pointing to all the other people in queue, who are (hopefully) respecting the imaginary hula hoops.

Be prepared for hurt puppy looks, though – I have yet to find a way around those.

The writer is an honest-to-goodness desi living in Dubai

Published: May 26, 2014 04:00 AM


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