Off Topic: Parts of You That Don’t Belong to You

Americans are profoundly aware of this thing known as “personal space.” It is a 1.5-foot radius that surrounds us at all times (excepting during subway rides and parades) and must be kept as barren of human presence as a demilitarized zone between two warring countries. In a show of goodwill, we will sometimes reach across this void for a handshake; in extreme situations we may dive in for an embrace.

But sometimes our protective zone disappears. For reasons to be explored, people feel they can, uninvited, invade our sovereign territory without so much as a by-your-leave. It’s as if some part of you was no more your own than the lamppost at the corner. Here are three such anatomical sections:

1 – A pregnant midsection. This is not something I have personally experienced, but I’ve heard enough about it from MFs. When one’s abdomen reaches the limit of the personal zone, people have reduced compunction about putting their hands on it to feel for movement inside. “That’s my stomach!” protested one MF indignantly. “Since when do you just put your hand on someone’s stomach?” I nodded sympathetically while eying her protruding belly. It doesn’t look much like a stomach, and truth be told, I’m as curious as anyone else. I haven’t felt a baby kick since Good4 was nascent, and I was only four back then.

2 – Corkscrew curls. This is my own personal cross to bear. I may be absorbed in a book or a spreadsheet or just sitting in class when I feel a slight tug at my scalp. Then another. Finally, it isn’t so slight anymore; the explorer has given a lock of hair a solid tug just to see what happens. In the general world, such an assay is followed by “How do you get it to do that?” as if screwy hair is something I consciously create every morning with a magic potion. In college, a world unto itself, the inhabitants have something different on their minds. After the tug they usually muse aloud, “I wonder what the Hooke’s law spring constant is.”

3 – Forearms. While the midsectional pat may be performed predominantly by women, the forearm punch is a male intrusion. It is a way of saying “I know you well enough to invade your space and impose minor damage without incurring retaliation!” Or, in more masculine terms, “We good buds!” Possibly it also means “I want to be your good bud!” because I’ve been on the receiving end from several guys, and if we were good buds they’d know better than to touch me. So it’s either that, or they mistake me for one of the guys. Ouch.

Am I missing anything? I know chazal say that one’s face is public property, but they didn’t mean that it was open to physical advances. Rather, they meant you should keep it looking pretty – preferably smiley – much the way you mow your lawn and whitewash your fence. Which people are supposed to stay off of.


12 thoughts on “Off Topic: Parts of You That Don’t Belong to You

  1. How about when someone alerts you to the fact that you have an eyelash on your face and then just goes ahead and removes it for you??? Face= the highest level of personal space.

  2. I admit I sometimes feel an irresistable urge to touch my daughter’s corkscrew curls, but I usually restrain myself, and I’d never do it to a stranger. Of course, Ramona boinged Susan’s curls.

  3. You mean the triceps punch, forearm punches are probably kinda awkward looking…

    LOL. That’s exactly what came to my mind when I read that line.


    Your hand if you seem in a sad mood.

    Payis or beards, sometimes – a close Chassidish friend sometimes found that almost everyone thought playing with them was okay, and during sefirah somehow people think mine is fair game.

    New glasses.

  4. I would add forearm touching during a serious discussion, particularly if one party if upset. It seems that it’s perfectly acceptable in the secular world, and truth be told, there is some psychological basis for casual touch like that defusing a tense situation. Even so, combine the shomer negiah aspect with the fact that depending on who the person is (this works better with, say, a spouse or close friend rather than an obnoxious classmate/co-worker) you might just feel like throwing their hand back at them.

    My advice for all of these scenarios is to take notes from what the Kotel upkeep people did to the pigeons. In the “cave” area on the front left of the men’s section, they permanently attached thin, sharp, little pongee sticks along particularly attractive roosting ledges. Before the renovation there, I remember seeing pigeons all over the place. After that, I only caught sight of a few loose feathers here and there (presumably from unobservant pigeons that needed to learn the hard way).

    Maybe we can devise some sort of inconspicuous belly (perhaps a tape or special shirt), hair clip (worn so that the spikes are disguised under the outer surfact of the hair), triceps/forearm guard (strapped under the sleeve) that would do the trick. After a few hilarious (and potentially bloody) incidents, I think everybody will get the hint.

  5. I never minded the curl pull in high school, because that was from friends and so it was ok if they got into my space. But the worst was from random strangers who would just come over to me and stroke my hair. talk about freaky!
    The girl equivalent to the triceps punch=triceps squeeze, I hate when my friends do that to me-such an awkward feeling…

  6. I personally hate the “seminary hug”, which is the kind of hug that isn’t just a quick hug hello, but it’s an all-out pounce, combined with a shriek of “OHMIGOSHHH!!!!! I haven’t seen you in FOREVER!” followed by being squeezed until you can’t breathe…and it’s usually someone you haven’t seen in a long time for a good readon.

  7. If the tag is sticking up in back of your top or sweater, a lot of women will just tuck it back in for you, sometimes with no warning. But I mostly appreciate that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s