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Davis, California

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Breaking Norms: “Alien” invasion


As I hovered near her hunched-over body at a nook in the library and read aloud the words on her screen, she automatically did a quick 180 spin and gave me a mixed look of confusion and awe. It was then established that, yeah, maybe people don’t like it when strangers invade their personal space. They basically look at you like you’re an alien from outer space.

But aren’t we all just one big, happy family dispersed across this Earth? Nope, I guess not. Personal space is a big deal to most people and when you get too close (especially without actually knowing the person), they tend to respond rather hastily.

The girl in the library whose identity shall not be released seemed a little shaken at the idea of someone standing close to her while she studied. That’s not an uncommon feeling, which prompted me to go observe other students and their reactions.

I ventured through and around campus these past few weeks — stalking my prey, leaning in closer and closer and eventually breaking into that little bubble we like to call our personal space.

In line for the ATM, I tested the simple norm of standing too close to someone when there was plenty of other space available. Considering that I’m not a polar bear seeking warmth and comfort from its mother in the winter, the guy I “crossed boundaries” with slowly stepped away until the “weird” girl got the hint.

If you’ve ever accidentally gotten too close to someone you didn’t know, they probably (a) said something (b) looked at you oddly or (c) discreetly moved as far away from you as possible.

It’s a bit extreme when people assume that someone isn’t “all there” if they get too close. The way it seems, at least to me, is that we’ve classified the invasion of personal space as not only breaking a social norm, but as a deviation from manners and standard human behavior.

When I was waiting in line for food at the CoHo, I decided to stand at a socially awkward proximity to the person in front of me. After becoming aware that I was there, this person kept inching forward to regain their personal space … like I had on a ski-mask and was going to pick-pocket them and run away or something.

To further illustrate this social norm, while dining with the cronies at the ever-famous Cuarto DC, I nonchalantly crept my chair closer and closer to the person next to me until we were nearly touching. People don’t like shoving food into their face when there’s someone an inch away from them. That makes sense in this day and age, but when was our dining etiquette instilled with the rule that we must eat at least two feet away from one another? Intriguing.

The social norm that probably got the most and best feedback was when I sniffed people. Yes, I actually sniffed people like a freakin’ dog.

Put it this way: We all hug people. However, when I went in for a hug, I just lingered a little longer and audibly sniffed them. It’s confirmed that people don’t necessarily like it when you inhale their essence. It’s not like I was sucking out their soul, but that’s the type of reaction I typically gathered.

In the movies, when a couple hugs and one of them lingers to sniff the other’s hair or whatever, it’s like “Aww how romannnntic,” but when I do it, it’s more like “Ugh back off, you freakazoid.”

People treated me like I had just graduated from the school of creepily sniffing people, with honors, and was sharing my skills with every unwilling person around me.

That sounds exaggerated, but the thing is that there are just so many social norms that aren’t even a big deal, but people treat them as such.

So, I’m just here to spread the word. And if it takes me having to sniff you to get the message across, then so be it.

If you have the desire to creep people out around campus, then retire into the life of luxury with SAVANNAH HOLMES and contact her at skholmes@ucdavis.edu.


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