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Crowds at entrances and personal space preferences

Trip reports and other posts here on the forum by first-timers in Europe oftentimes mention trouble with not just crowding but with maintaining one's preferred sense of space, an issue that is even more sensitive with catching a bug on our minds.

When I was doing a group tour of the Vatican museums some years back the guide warned the group several times that it would be crowded, especially getting through the entrance, and he tried to diplomatically encourage / advise / coach attendees to be assertive and to huddle up -- it seemed like unnecessary pleading to me, having grown up in urban East Coast cities and having depended on subways and buses and school cafeterias and MLB games, but plead as he might, our group never made decent progress and getting through the turnstiles and security check took us forever ( I squirmed through with so much time to spare that I could use the WC and read the handouts before the group re-grouped)

DW News has been doing stories about a research institute that studies crowd management:
and I can't get over how blind they seem to be to the culturally determined nature of crowd behavior -- they mention how putting a pillar on a train station platform 'naturally' improves pedestrian traffic flow because of course everyone treats it like a roundabout.
As though roundabouts were part of nature! Or how everyone naturally keeps at roughly the same distance on a platform while waiting for a train to arrive -- try the same exercise in Madurai or Mexico City and see how that works out!

I guess I'm posting this because I still find myself surprised at how willfully blind even supposed experts are to the culturally conditioned qualities of our supposed natural preferences and behaviors. And it gives me yet another chance to recommend Joe Lurie's book on cross-cultural sensitivities :

What travel memories stand out for you regarding things getting a little too close for comfort?

Posted by
6788 posts

The uniformed "people pushers" in the Tokyo subways whose job is to physically push passengers into the train cars and pack them together tightly during rush hour. Being Japanese, at least they do it politely. Still, it's crazy (for's routine for them).

Posted by
7565 posts

Traveling from the U.S. to London last month, then continuing on to southern Africa for safari (South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe), there were countless times at airports (check-in, security, immigration arrivals, even restrooms, but NOT for the mob around luggage carousels), plus hotel lobbies, restaurants, stores, etc. where Covid “social distancing” markers were still on the floor. Mask and distancing regulations are still, officially, in place in some countries. Some countries have specified keeping 6 feet away, others anywhere from 1 to 1.5 to 2 meters, and yet almost no one, anywhere, paid any heed. The markers and stickers on the floor are apparently just decoration. People just crowd, I guess. Maybe it’s in human DNA. Personal space is not a “thing” for most people, apparently, even when a pandemic has suggested otherwise. Ski lift lines are often like that, too.

On safari, zebras crowd together (the dazzling mass of stripes make it hard for predators to single out an individual), and baboons in trees kind-of cluster together, but when eating nuts, a big baboon doesn’t want to share the branch with others. Hippos cluster together in the water, but crocodiles keep their space from one another. Elephants, huge enough that space around a watering hole or mud bath pit might seem insufficient without bunching together, actually spread out a bit, and wait their turn for one to finish getting a good drink, before another steps in. One large pack of elephants waits until the pack currently drinking or tossing mud on themselves (good barrier to prevent biting insects) is done, before advancing to partake for themselves. Elephants are polite, sharing, individuals who respect others’ space. They allow elbow room - er, maybe that’s trunk room.

More than I can say for the guy getting off the plane from Cape Town back to London earlier this month. He got up the minute the plane landed, two rows behind me, grabbed his bag out of the overhead bin, and charged past, not allowing people to file out in order. Never said “excuse me,” just appeared that the rest of us at the back of the plane needed to get/stay out of his way. Maybe he had a tight connection, or maybe he just felt entitled, or was simply a jerk. There’s a warthog at every watering hole.

Posted by
46 posts

Getting off the overnight ferries on the Baltic Sea was always a zoo. People bunched up in the lobby, the nearby halls, the stairs, blocking the elevators, etc. It always feels like the whole shipload of passengers must all leave at the same second.

Posted by
3941 posts

Oh god - our first visit to Paris and on the Eiffel Tower - we were following the line to get on the elevators to leave and this woman just kept pressing right against my back from shoulder to butt. It wasn't even crowded - there was plenty of room. After a minute or two of this I finally stopped, stepped aside, and angrily gestured for her to go ahead - she gave me a shocked look like she didn't understand why I was upset. If it was me now, I would've made some pithy quip about not even letting my husband get that close to me, but at the time it put me in a foul mood.

Posted by
1224 posts

I have a pretty small personal bubble as I work with 4th graders. But I got very upset with a huge group of tourists who were racing to get up to the Schilthorn on the last gondolas while we were just going to Murren when one of them tried to rest his camera on top of my MIL head so he could get a picture out the window she was next to. My husband, who is 6'2", and I blocked him off and I assertively told him that no that was not going to happen in the most universally understood English I could think of.

Posted by
4286 posts

Good question, Avi. :) My favorite story is the time I had a group of kids going through Schönbrunn. Another tour group came in behind ours and, as my personal responsibility of 3 very short kids waited their turn to move to the front to see the exhibit (of course, every inch of the rooms were filled), several ladies from the other group started jostling to move right in front of the kids. Not malicious - just self-absorbed and culturally acceptable. I looked at them and thought to myself, “They have no idea I know how to play this game.” So I just jostled right back and moved “my” kids to the front to see. When physically (by my body) made aware of the process, they waited their turn…. (plus they could easily see over the kids’ heads).

David, in 8 years, I always managed to avoid being in Tokyo on the subway at rush hour!

Posted by
272 posts

"There’s a warthog at every watering hole."

Thanks, Cyn, that gave me a good laugh to start the day!

Posted by
4230 posts

My first thought went to Disney, they've got it figured out. We were Disney vets long before we saw the light and became Euro converts. I was used to long, but orderly lines. Then I went to Greece. Even a lineup for a bus was an elbow jamming, foot stomping rugby scrum. To be fair, these are the tourists I'm talkng about, but it all comes about because I never saw an orderly line set up by our hosts that I could get into.

I know this topic is about crowds, but my other thought when I think of "getting to close for comfort" is the practice of cheek kissing. OH MY GOSH, I HATE THAT! Nothing makes me feel more uncomfortable, but I feel so rude and possibly silly looking when I dart and dodge to avoid it.

Posted by
1986 posts

Americans and Brits to a certain extent have the notion of a "buffer zone" as Seinfeld would put it. Which means that we need a bit of space between us even in a crowd. However most Europeans don't have this idea. When I went to Los Italianos ice cream shop in Granada, Spain. there wasn't really a line, just a mob of people that one had to push through in order to get served. You could tell the Americans and Brits as we were at the end of the queue until someone told me just to push through. It sounds weird but it worked.

That said as someone who gets claustrophobic, I hate, hate big crowds which is why I try to travel during off-season even if the weather is worse.

Posted by
18506 posts

b1 Here is a very short article on the subject with illustrations so you don't have to read.
b2 If part of your travel experience involves making friends in other lands, not bad information to know.
b3 Of course all this goes out the window in certain situations; last July I boarded a metro in Kyiv where something in the range of 32" would be the norm for strangers, but I ended up smashed body to body, face to face, with a young lady [exception] who just began speaking to me in Russian and laughing (maybe it was the expression on my face?).
b4 We ended up walking to a coffee shop at the next stop and when standing the social distance barriers were very real [norm]
b5 She introduced me to the gentleman that I believe owned the place and he first hugged me [exception] then took his distance [norm].
b5 We parted with a hug [exception] after she quickly stepped back and said goodbye [norm]; I am always aware of this and find it fascinating to experience.
b6 I studied all of this at the University many, many years ago (part of my profession) and I remember the instructor illustrating it by showing a movie (we didnt have "video" back then) taken from the ceiling of an elevator where one of the passengers would step a tad too close to the person next to them, who would step away; over the course of the short ride the passenger had been chased half way around the elevator with very little awareness of what was happening (I still do this every chance I get)

Posted by
3961 posts

“Picture this” CDG a number of years ago, me, 5’2” “on a good day,” heading for passport control in a LARGE corridor 3 hours, massive crowd, no crowd control, no knowledge of what to expect, people pushing & shoving, anger ensuing. Frightening. As my mother used to say, “There are a million stories in the naked city.” ;) Yes, Avi, a little too close for comfort.

Posted by
97 posts

We were crowded on the cable car up to the Schilthorn. Some Europeans got on and immediately started pushing to get to the window even though it was crowded. One guy was breathing in my hair to get his picture with his mask under his chin. Totally gross!

Posted by
2528 posts

For future readers of this thread I want to mention that today's sad news about a charity church event in Nigeria where 31 people were trampled to death appeared after I posted this topic -- I posted this based on the DW News story about research into crowd management, and just coincidentally the news today was relevant.

I have a pretty high tolerance for crowds, but that doesn't mean I'm someone who loves crowds, so I wonder if there is anyone here on the forum who would like to speak up about the pleasures/joys of the masses? Religious revivals? Stadium concerts? Victory rallies?

I do recall once at the second-to-last mascleta of Las Fallas the plaza was really packed and I was thinking that if a firework goes sideways and panic ripples through the crowd folks would get hurt -- there are plenty of fire-safety officers around but that's in case of fire, not much help with a herd reaction.

Posted by
2092 posts

James. Your first post is so darn true. Had me laughing, and I’m outside at a cafe with a few looks pointed my way. Glad I did not have coffee in my mouth.

Posted by
2528 posts

When I was young cars still had bench seats, front and back, and many buses and subway cars as well --
it was normal/standard and therefore seen as natural to have incidental contact with strangers at the hip or knees.

Today I don't think there are any cars made with bench seats in front and almost none in the back -- the three-across is really two with a hump in the middle, and as we take that to be normal/standard and therefore seen as natural now incidental contact with strangers on the bus or train is cause for flummoxation.

This change ramifies out -- bleacher seats at ballgames, waiting rooms in general, park benches, the banquettes along the walls of cafes, etc. What is taken to be part of the normal daily grind has changed to become more like grinding :-)

Posted by
4230 posts

so I wonder if there is anyone here on the forum who would like to speak up about the pleasures/joys of the masses?

There's nothing better than a packed arena or stadium for a game against a hated rival. Stepping into the arena can be spine tingling and when the crowd roars from start to end you can't even hear the whistle during the game. Everyone is your best friend when your team scores and close confines don't matter.

I love to go to a game wherever I am. Going to try for a soccer game in September while I'm in England. It's the atmosphere I'm after more than the game.

Posted by
4230 posts

I get what Janis is saying. My wife is 5'0" and hates crowds. She got no joy out of the Vatican because she was nose to armpit the entire tour. I'm 6'2" and can easily maneuver into position to see whatever I want. We tend to adjust our itineraries to maximize her potential of a good viewing experience.