I like personal space. I like my personal space a lot. In fact, it irritates me greatly when my personal space is violated, particularly from those who stand right at nose and keep moving toward you even as you back away from them to establish a sense of personal space.
Naturally, different people and cultures have differing notions of how much personal space to give to other people. This graphic is a bit exaggerated in terms of social space, but - for me, at least - it's fairly close:
Italians, though, seem to know nothing of personal space (which seems to be an English/Anglo notion). This causes no small amount of discomfort and frustration while walking through - and sometimes living in - the Eternal City.
I realize each morning that I would much happier in Rome if I knew nothing of personal space, but at the same time my personal space keeps my happy. It's a catch 22, as they say, because continental Europeans (or at least those who are tourists in the Eternal City) and Romans especially seem to respect absolutely no one, whether in the streets or on the sidewalks.
They will rub elbows with you as you pass each other, force you up against the side of a building, hit you with their backpacks as they turn to talk to a friend, and purposely force you into the street with oncoming traffic so they can continue talking with their friend (with whom they have conveniently locked arms and refuse to let go). The notion of a small group forming briefly into something resembling a single file line to allow another group to pass by in the same manner (which is expected and considered decent and respectful in the Midwest) is completely foreign in Rome.
This is why I keep this sign next to my door so that I see it whenever I leave my room:
In reality, it is a card sent last year by a good friend in Hawaii. I knew then that it would be a good reminder to keep before me, though it is sometimes very difficult as you're jostled and pushed all day long.
Although Romans and tourists do not respect other people on the streets and sidewalks - at least not strangers - there is one thing they do respect: food. I discovered this this afternoon as I walked back to the Casa Santa Maria carrying a cake I bought to celebrate my birthday later this evening with the priests who live on my floor:
Yes, bakeries here still wrap up your purchases for you like this. It's nice, but not always worth the wait, though today it was.
Imagine my surprise this afternoon as I made my way through the sidewalks of Rome and people walking toward my groups actually parted - just little - allow me - rather, my cake - to pass by. I wish I'd discovered this sooner, though it might get expensive after a few days.
In the end, I may just need to get one of these (though I've no idea where to look):