Factors in Distance Variation – Moroccan culture

Proximics: Evidence from Moroccan culture
Part Two: 2- Factors in Distance Variation

The distance one takes from his interlocutor in interaction may vary according to factors relating to the interacting individual, the nature of his sex, his social status whether he is subordinate, equal, or superior to his interlocutor; and finally to the nature of the interaction itself that is: whether it is intellectual, business or personal. The degree of variation shows how the interacting person conceives of distance, for his behaviour will be regarded improper if he fails to maintain the appropriate space to the situation.

2-1-Sex of Individuals
The informants responses reveal that sex has a great influence on the spacing pattern in the Moroccan culture.
In public interaction, most of the informants favour with drawing to a less close distance when the interlocutor is from the opposite sex. For instance, when the interlocutor is a female, the male speaker controls his verbal as well as his non-verbal behaviour, the distance he takes is not too intimate, nor does he excessively use touch; otherwise his behaviour will be disapproved of  by society because it is too intimate. Both student and pupil informants affirm that distance does change according to the nature of the interlocutor’s sex. A male student informant claims that in interaction with his female friends he shifts from intimate to casual distance. The justification he gives to such behaviour is his desire to form patterns of behaviour.

As Mackenzie (1966) says “Patterns of behaviour approved by his society” (P: 152). Four other male student informants say that they pay much attention to their speech and keep a wider distance in interaction with male friends. Moreover, they add that they only use touch for greeting or leave-taking. Eventually, traditions in Moroccan culture force the interacting individual to respect the opposite sex by not showing any intimacy in a public interaction.

Female student and pupil informants tend to have the same attitude as males in what concerns sex as a factor in the variation of distance: that is, they also shift from intimate distance to a casual distance when their interlocutor is from the opposite sex. Six student informants claim that unless their male interlocutor is a brother, a cousin, or somebody who would not misunderstand their behaviour, they never communicate through an intimate distance but withdraw from eleseness to a far distance. However, four pupil informants claim that the sex of the interlocutor does not necessarily affect their usage of distance. Two of them make this claim because they usually do not show intimacy to neither their male nor to their female friends, the two others simply say that they do not take into consideration the judgment of others and behave as it pleases to them though they know their behaviour is not accept in the Moroccan culture and would be misunderstood and criticized.However , most of the informants take into consideration the sex of their interlocutor though there are some exceptions.

As an answer from some student informants whether they shift from one distance to another according to sex or not. We notice that the age of the informants can play a role in the choice of distance, 14 females student informants can play a role in the choice of distance ; 14 females student informants claim that they do not change distance according to sex, whereas about 10 of female student informants claim that they change distance according to sex and they are more concerned about the judgment of society.
Besides society , there are other factors that may make the interacting person shift from one distance to another when the interlocutor is from the opposite sex.
As a matter of fact , some teacher informants give other reasons to why they change distance when their colleague interlocutor is from the opposite sex. A female teacher informant says that in her interaction with colleagues, she withdraws from intimate distance which she uses in interaction with females to a casual and sometimes even to a formal distance when the interlocutor is a male. The only reason she gives to such behaviour is the fact that she is a straightforward person brought up in a conservative family where one is cursed if she stands in an intimate distance from his interlocutor who is from the opposite sex, and if he excessively uses touch such as kissing this interlocutor on both cheeks for a greeting or a leave – taking.
Another male high school teacher claims that what he takes into consideration when he changes distance from close to a remote in interaction is his female colleague’s personality that is to say: whether she is a person who tolerates being treated friendly by a male colleague, or on the contrary, a person who insists on formality and does not accept and informal usage of distance unless the male interlocutor is closer than a colleague such as her brother or husband.

In the questionnaire administered to high school teachers as an answer to the following question:
Does your distance change when you talk from the opposite sex ?

The three factors mentioned earlier that is to say:
Society, the speaker’s personality, and the interlocutor’s personality, are given as a motivation to the yes answer.
We can notice that though the other factors which contribute to the change in the speaker’s distance according to the sex of the interlocutor society gets the highest percentage. As a matter of fact “le qu’on dirra-t-on” plays an important role in the Moroccan culture. Therefore as Hudson (1980) says “people should base their behaviour on a compromise between what they really feel and what they know is expected of them in order to maintain their face at a reasonable level” (P.   )

Sometimes the individual finds himself not free to behave in a way he likes or to speak in a way he prefers just to please other individuals in society. For instance, a student informant says that there are things such as taboo words he can use when interacting with o male but regard them as an indecent behaviour, this is another illustration that shows that the interlocutor is taken into account by the Moroccan interacting individuals: To the question could you whisper to a colleague from the opposite sex ? No one of the high school teacher informants answer positively and the motivation given by all of them is the hard criticism of others . in other words, the judgment of society. A female teacher informant says that she can not be too intimate with a male colleague to the point whispering to him because such probably neutral behaviour might appear to others as communicating more that mere intimacy.

There is much evidence then that the sex of the interacting individual plays a considerable role in the change of distance causing its variation mainly from intimate to casual. An embarrassing distance to all the teacher informants is to stand one foot distant or less from a colleague from the opposite sex in their interaction.


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