[FOUNTAIN]How close is too close?

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[FOUNTAIN]How close is too close?

Arthur Schopenhauer, the 19th century philosopher, likened human relations to those of hedgehogs. Cold when alone, the hedgehog moves closer to other hedgehogs. But with their bodies covered with thorns, they are pained by huddling, and so they keep a reasonable distance. A distance at which they can feel each other's warmth but not close enough to get pierced.

Desmond Morris, renowned for his book "The Naked Ape," was interested in how people in different countries define the so-called personal spaces. He then categorized Europe into three zones with distinctively different personal spaces governing social behavior.

First is the "elbow zone" in which he put Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey, countries that are close to the Mediterranean. Space between persons in these countries is tight enough for their elbows to bump into each other. The second zone is the "wrist" zone, which encompasses countries from Poland, Hungary, Romania and other East European countries. People maintain a distance in which, if they like, they can reach out and easily grab the other by the wrist. The third is defined as "finger-tip zone," to which England, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden belong. In these countries, people tend to keep at arm's length.

The people in the elbow zone, thanks to the mild weather of the Mediterranean, have more opportunity to be in contact with others, thereby reducing the person-to-person distance. People living in the finger-tip zone are in stark contrast to the former. It is said that the British are often caught off guard when they travel to Italy when they see how the Italians easily touch one another during a conversation. While people of the elbow zone have a tendency to show an orientation toward community, people of the finger-tip zone show a strong individualism and low tolerance for unwarranted invasion of their personal space or infringement on their privacy.

Which of the three best identifies Korean society? Although individualism is on the rise, ours is a society where neighbors just pop up without notice. So we would belong to the "elbow" zone. The massive congregation at public plazas nationwide during the World Cup soccer games, where every inch of space was packed with cheering crowds, well demonstrated our "elbow" distance in personal spaces. The dangerous wrangling of our politicians, akin to wrestling, is another example. At this point, we would do well to borrow from the hedgehog's wisdom.

The writer is a deputy editor for International News at the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jai-hyun

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