It’s been many years since I have read Edward Hall’s The Hidden Dimension, a book written in the 1960s about human perception of space. As I recall this extremely fascinating book, the premise was the perception of space was not a constant among people, but was highly influenced by culture. The two examples that I recall best were (1) how close people are when they speak to each other (i.e., in some cultures, the speaker gets right in the face of the listener; while it others, this would be very rude and make the listener very uncomfortable), and (2) where private space lets off, and public space begins (i.e., in some cultures, in an office setting, the space directly outside of a private office, or even the space within the door jamb, but outside of the private office itself, is purely public space, so that a conversation ignoring the office denizen can take place, while in other cultures, it is unspeakbly rude to hold a conversation not including the person in the private office).
I think about Hall’s book fairly often, and that includes today, when I am thinking about the difference in space perception between the United States and Turkey.
In Washington, as I walked up Connecticut Avenue, I noticed how wide the sidewalks were. I glanced at the windows in the stores on my right and as I passed a cosmetics store which had placed two small displays outside the door, I was startled, as if they had somehow invaded my public space (although it was not a very bothersome invasion).
Then, I recalled Istanbul, where every store spills out into the street. Even where the sidewalks are very narrow, there can be large and multiple displays of wares on the sidewalks, or in the case of a restaurant, tables that go to the very edge of the street. Who cares of pedestrians have to actually leave the sidewalks and go into the street in order to get from one block to the next? Certainly not the Turks, as this is much the norm throughout the city.
Different perceptions of public and private space. Different perceptions of who controls the space in front of a shop. Neither perception is better or worse, I assume, although for me, today, the Turkish way, because it is exotic and unusual, seems by far the better. But I would assume a visiting Turk might love the wide and unobstructed American sidewalks and, like me, be a little jarred, when two small cosmetic displays violate their public space.