There’s Always Room For One More

We have a large couch in our living room with plump pillows. This couch can fit two Americans, three if we really have no where else for them to sit, no matter how thin they are. But if people from other countries come – say five or six Pakistanis; or five or six Chinese friends; or four or five Middle Eastern friends; the couch somehow expands and fits all of them. It’s all about personal space.

Cultural views of space fascinate me. I work with people from many cultural backgrounds and find that these concepts are strong and often subconscious. When I see my friend from Peru he gives me a huge hug, kisses me on both cheeks and stands only inches from my nose. That’s how he communicates – he is comfortable and familiar with close personal space. By contrast I recently went up to someone from India and was about to hug her when she put out her hand and said “We don’t hug!”. It was clear and it was final.

Americans like their personal space. We move babies into rooms of their own often within minutes of birth, fearful that they will be too dependent. We cry out for the need of space and “alone time”. Something inconceivable to much of the world.

That is why I love this picture – it is a classic picture that represents a different view of personal space than many in the west have seen, experienced or understood. If this bus could talk I have no doubt it would say “There’s always room for one more!” And I know the driver and passengers would agree.

Blogger’s Note: Soon after publishing this a reader posted this to the Facebook page – it’s too good not to share more widely!

10 thoughts on “There’s Always Room For One More

  1. This is so Pakistani! I did a post like this on my FB page once, “You know you are in Pakistan when there is always room for one more” I remember when we cousins got together for sleepovers during Cricket World Cup season, about 12 to 15 of us would pile into one car and go for ice cream in Clifton/Defence


  2. PS I can’t resist adding this description from Madhur Jaffrey’s ‘The Taste of India’ regarding family picnics: “The art of getting thirty people into two cars… The first layer consisted of alternating teenagers and short ladies… On their laps went the second layer of slim ten to twelve year olds. The third layer, sitting on the laps of the second layer, consisted of those under ten. The tall men and servants sat in the front seat. On their laps sat the fat ten to twelve years olds holding all the baskets and pots that could not be stuffed into the trunk.”


    1. Loved the first comment and love this one as well! I’ve never heard this description- it is brilliant. I will use it in the future so thank you. I also loved the description of reading “to” western kids and ” with” African kids. What an amazing contrast. Thanks for both of these.

      Marilyn Gardner Sent from my iPhone


  3. I read *with* north african kids every week and always end up with a kid leaning into each arm, and another against my back (possibly stroking my hair). Reading with western kids so often means me sitting in a chair, holding up a book, and reading *to* the children sitting in front of me. A very different experience! and something I often think about.


  4. I remember in the winter in church in Lahore where I would arrange myself with a bit of space around me on the floor, to find that I inevitably ended up with two girls/ladies on either side of me actually in “touch” with me.

    Another aspect was when in the church Youth and Children’s Team meeting, our family worker, aged circa 35, revealed the “shocking” news that one of the children in her orbit “shared a bed with her mother”!!.

    My reply was that as long as it was a clean bed where was the issue? We are almost obsessed in the U.K. re children having their own room.


    1. Love this and love your response to the woman! We in the U.S are the same I’m afraid. The need we feel to put children in their own rooms, large rooms I might add, and so always feeling we need bigger houses is a bit of a problem.


  5. I thought about this all the time when I was in Europe. I observed that they have to live and commute in much closer quarters than we do. I also noticed that they were not only quieter on trains and buses than Americans would be, but they dressed more subtlety and, seemingly, more compactly. It’s like they have to respect each other’s space even to the point of not annoying each other with their clothing. I appreciated it, but it definitely made me self-conscious.

    On the other hand, remembering that most of the world has much different standards for personal space helps me to be content with my husband and two little kids in a tiny two bedroom apartment. And I am in no hurry to thrust baby into a room by herself. Much harder to replace a pacifier from another room. :-)


    1. So interesting. I’ve spent very little time in Europe but the little time I have spent feel a bit like a “loud” American. By contrast in Egypt I fit in beautifully! Massachusetts tends to be really quiet on subways and if you happen to have a conversation you are definitely looked at!
      About small apartments – I totally get this. When we moved from this huge house in Phoenix to a much smaller condo in Cambridge I immediately thought “what will we do when all the kids come home?” But it works. I’m always amused when I go to Ikea and see the set ups that are for European apartments … but we use them in our closets! And love what you say about your baby.


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