Don’t Stand So Close to Me. Especially at the Grocery Store

(Photo:; Graphic: Nancy Gonzalez/

I love my personal space.

At the same time, I also try to remember that I’m on the planet as one person among many, many other people. I try to help where I can and leave others in peace to be themselves — to “do them,” as it were.

Until they’re behind me in the grocery line.

Apparently, I have some deeply held beliefs about how much space I can expect to have to for myself, and about how little is too little. If I see you in a yoga studio without your mat space clearly marked on the floor, I will show you exactly what I mean.

I’m not bragging about this predisposition. I’m not excited about anything that makes me feel intolerant of other people and their pushy, all-up-on-me ways. I can concede that it’s not them, it’s me.


Sting and I are on the same lyrical page with at least one thing. Don’t stand so FREAKING CLOSE to me.

I don’t hate people, I swear. I’m not a germaphobe. I was hugged and loved adequately from birth, and I had a large extended family who sat next to each other on couches and at smallish dinner tables without unusual incident. I didn’t have a ton of friends as a young kid, but during high school and college my circle grew, and along with it came the typical cramming into cars and beach houses and concert seats and restaurant booths that always had room for one more.

All of that said, Sting and I are on the same lyrical page with at least one thing. Don’t stand so FREAKING CLOSE to me.

I wish it weren’t true — mea culpa, mea culpa — but I feel better being honest about it. Because it’s a drag to be this way in a daily life that’s a virtual minefield of people and proximity. Coffee shop lines, work meetings, interactions with students — all of it can be fodder for someone to try to sit on my lap while they conduct their lives.

But the grocery line is the worst, and it’s where I have the most trouble understanding the behavior of my fellow shoppers. I’m not a dawdler by nature. I unload my cart pretty fast, without crowding the person in front of me while she completes her transaction. She could be as space-crazy as I am, and I believe in nothing as much as the Golden Rule. But no matter how few items I have, or how quickly I move, the person behind me always seems to be jamming her cart and/or herself up as close to me as physically possible. She’ll throw her stuff on the belt as soon as there are centimeters of space. Her tomatoes will become my tomatoes. Her copy of Glamour will become dangerously close to going home with me — until she inexplicably determines that I’m trying to steal her stuff. She’ll side-eye me, pointedly putting down the stick that blocks the contents of her grocery cart from mine. The stick, I might add, that should have been put there when she first started unloading her stuff.

You know, this all may just be me. Feel free to confirm this.

The other day as I was checking out, a woman leaned her elbow on the check-writing counter just inches from where I was punching in my ATM info. I wanted not to care, but I did. I tried to breathe through it. I wanted to ask this lady if her loud sighs meant that she needed to hug it out. I wanted to be able to evaporate, to get out of there. I wanted it not to be happening.

I don’t think I was particularly nice to that lady, who may have just been tired or struggling or dealing with whatever it was that compelled her to rest her head almost directly onto a stranger’s shoulder in the grocery store line. I wonder if people who practice mindfulness meditation or Reiki or whatever would have been better behaved if they were in my shoes. Probably, and I suppose it might do me some good to start practicing one of those things. My un-meditative self left the store clutching my neck, unable to comprehend the basic difference between these two types of humans — those who will stand right on top of you without blinking, and people like me, who need to stand a few inches apart from others to conduct business. Just a few, please, and then we will be on our way. We might even wave and smile.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to reconcile these two personality types. I’ll probably always crave my personal space. But I’m committed to personal growth and increased understanding of my fellow humans. From over here.

Tell Us in the Comments

What do you think?

14 Responses

  1. Suebob

    I hear you. And because I am my own special self, I can be passive-aggressive about it too, refusing to move up until I absolutely have to. One day, this so enraged a lady behind me that she began yelling in a German accent “You are doing it wrong! You must move up! You must move up!”

    It was one of my sweetest victories.

  2. Joan Bennett

    I totally hear you! There was a book called “Incivility: The Rude Stranger In Every Day Life”, or something like that, which covers this nicely. It was written several years ago about how people in the US were starting to invade personal space and they have been doing this in Aust (where I’m from), too, for a few years now. There should be police watching this sort of thing – you can’t have these perverts always trying to make physical contact with complete strangers! It’s one step on the road to anarchy, people…

  3. Thistlebit

    My MIL stands too close. She’s several inches shorter than me and sidles up like she’s got a secret to share, except she doesn’t. The weirdest was the time she stood rightnexttome on a completely empty beach, as if we were squeezed into an elevator.

  4. Cindy

    I have literally told people in line if they get any closer to me they have to buy me a drink. They are never amused.

  5. Emily

    I’m pretty sure The Police came up with “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.”

  6. Jeremy Graham

    Am I peculiar?..I don’t like it when I am browsing in bookstores and people always seem to have to come to the exact same area that I am..same thing in supermarket aisles..
    yes..i guess I am peculiar..

    • Jade

      I don’t think you’re peculiar. It happens to me often than I like it to.

  7. Jade

    This article is speaking my truth. I am 4’10 and weigh 103 Ibs so I get the extra creepy rude strangers. I thought maybe I was just too sensitive to other people standing too close to me until I literally had a cashier at a grocery checkout line ask a woman who was standing so close behind me to back up and give me space. The cashier proceeded to explain to the woman that I’m putting in my credit card information and she shouldn’t be standing too close. This is when I knew that I was NOT crazy, people love standing too close to me.

  8. Erika Washington

    The problem is that they are all impatient, trying to rush people and what I can’t figure out, what is their hurry? We’re living in a time where alot of people are angry, no personality(like robots), very rude and in a hurry all the time and it’s to the point I don’t even care to go anywhere but I won’t let that stop me though. I’m like whatever personal issues you have, keep them to yourself and leave other people alone with your nasty attitudes, everyone else has to shop too along with other errands

  9. tom

    Next time she trolleys up on your space fucking beat her with the divider stick

  10. Dee

    Omg … we are the same person!! When my mom comes with me she think I’m crazy cuz I’m constantly pushing forward to get away from someone crowding me when they put their groceries on the belt. It such a relief when the person behind me leaves to go to another line cuz the one I’m in is too damn slow. Glad I am not alone. If you stand over me while I pay I will cover the credit card swipe/chip machine with my non losing hand or I’ll just give them a funny look. Young kids don’t know any better.. grown ups do so stop it! Shits annoying!

  11. Lori

    This happens to me all the time. I have to put my cart in between me and the person behind me now to claim my space or I will not have room to finish paying for my stuff. People even reach over my to fill their drinks at the soda fountain even though I am still filling mine and I am not being slow. I almost tripped over a lady yesterday who was practically standing on my heels at the checkout. Now I wonder if some are trying to be pickpockets. How do you deal with these people?


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