We, as Americans, like our space. This can be seen by the houses we build, the vehicles we buy, even how much clearance we need to pass someone on the road. The aisles in our stores have grown to accommodate our growing need for space and what we find comfortable. Our personal space is important and is our domain.
I don’t doubt that personal space is important here in Kyrgyzstan but the distance needed is not nearly as large. My first year here was fairly uncomfortable as I learned to get adjusted to the closer person-to-person interactions. At the bazaars there is constant pushing to make one’s way through. To get off of crowded public transportation one must not be modest and expect people to move aside; you push your way to the front. Even for vehicles, the space needed for maneuvering is just what is needed.
When we first started driving I was so nervous that we were too close to the other cars. My imaginary brake pedal has gone through the floorboard more than twice. My friends stand closer. Not being a very touchy person, the normal hug-and-kiss greeting for female friends felt “not normal” when I first got here. Now the hug-and-kiss greeting is appreciated. Maneuvering around the bazaar is not a problem. I actually prefer to be on a marshrutka that is jam-packed because it means I don’t need to hold on to the railings. Our little joke about the marshrutka is if you can still breathe comfortably then there’s room for more people. I no longer have to make up excuses for my foot pounding into the floorboard because it happens less. My husband says that he knows the “whiskers” of the vehicle, which means, just like a cat, he knows his boundaries while driving.
It felt claustrophobic at the beginning and I didn’t realize how much I had adjusted til we went home the first time. My parents had bought a new truck and when I sat down in it I was amazed at how spacious it was. It was huge! I didn’t know what to do with all the space. That was one of the culture shocks I experienced on our return home: wide aisles, cars, and roads. While there are still aspects of life where I crave space (like in an office) I think I have learned how to do more with less.