What’s the Word for Personal Space in Italian?

jenningsby Monica Jennings

I have been in Cagli for almost a week now and I’m beginning to believe that personal space, often referred to as the personal box, is a foreign concept to the people in Cagli, Italy. Realizing that I am in a different culture and consciously aspiring to appreciate and value the cultural differences amongst Italians, specifically, the Cagliese, I have allowed myself to become pleasantly uncomfortable when interacting with people within this community. I have endured the firm grasps of my arm as well as the saliva particles that target my lower lip and cheek both equally tagging me as an unidentifiable foreigner incessantly meandering through the vias of this small city. I have smelled the breath of life the gentlemen (both young and old) carry delivering greetings of “Good Day” and interrogations of “where are you from?” followed by “yes, but where are you from originally?” I have felt the penetrations of prolonged stares of inquisition that both men, women, boy, and girl have given as they all struggle to discover my place in the world-at-large simultaneously wondering why my journey has lead me here to Cagli.

Today, however, I was unprepared for such encounters… As previously arranged, I ventured out into the hills of New Cagli to interview a teenaged girl to learn more about the Cagliese way of life. We met at the pool center as planned. Initially, the interview was to be between the teenager and I, however, with great enthusiasm, I welcomed her swimming coach and the coach’s daughter as they were full of questions for the Americana visiting their hometown. We took turns questioning each other about culture and lifestyle; we all became increasingly comfortable as time elapsed.

Without warning, the swimming coach’s daughter walked slowly towards me and stood above me, as I was seated facing the women. She began to examine the top of my head with her eyes as if searching for a similarity between she and me. I felt awkward, but continued to talk to the other ladies realizing that the probability of this lady seeing someone that fit my profile in this area is highly unlikely in the near future. The woman proceeded to come closer, as if my knees grazing her knees was not enough, and ran her left hand across the top of my head. I don’t know what she expected. Feeling more confident, I suppose, she then took both of her hands and began to massage my scalp and caress the strands of my hair with the tips of her fingers. She made a seemingly barking noise with her mouth, of which I interrupted and asked her to inform me of the significance of the noise. She said she meant no harm but was simply trying to make a connection with the texture of my hair. She was very pleased with her discovery. She dove in one last time with both hands, nodded with a big smile, and returned to where she was sitting with a face of complete satisfaction. The woman had accomplished something that few others in her circle had done before. I am not sure if I valued or appreciated this moment, but respect was definitely there. It is far better this happened in Cagli than at home in the states. Personal space is something cherished… I wonder what would have happened if the roles were reversed.

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