It’s a well-known fact that the Radius of Personal Space in Russia is much smaller than that in the West. In the U.S., when you stand in a line, you stand, what, 2 feet or so behind the person in front of you. If you stand that far away here, people won’t think you are committed to standing in the queue, and they’ll ask you whether you’re actually in line, or more likely, they’ll just wedge into the space.

On public transport during rush hour, the Radius of Personal Space is zero. Who knew you could get so intimate with complete strangers? Not content just to smush you with their shoulders and bellies, sometimes people will even push you out of the way with their hands. It’s considered uncultured to do this, but also not uncommon.

Yesterday I was in the grocery store, standing in a cramped aisle, looking at the juice selection at my left, when I felt something soft squish in to my right arm. I looked over and discovered a beer belly. I moved out of the guy’s way. No words were exchanged. But why not? Russian has perfectly good words like “razreshitye” (allow me through), “izvinitye” (sorry) , “prostitye” (pardon me), and “pozhaluista” (please). This was not a noisy, crowded metro at rush hour. Could this man have not used one or more of the words above?