Picking a spot to lay your towel on the beach, it turns out, can say quite a bit about who you are and where you’re from. People of different cultures, genders and group sizes all vary in their determination of how much ocean-front real estate to stake out.
Back in 1981, one researcher set out to quantify these dynamics. He surveyed German and French beaches and included data taken from a previous study conducted in the U.S. Here’s Neurotic Physiology on what he found:
He gave out surveys at German and French beaches, roughly of the same size, asking how many people were in a party, whether they felt the beach was crowded, when it would be over-crowded, etc. While the people were taking the surveys, a helper noted the ages of the group members, and what they were using to mark their “territory” and the depth and width of the territory they claimed.
Trends emerged from the data, Neurotic Physiology describes. Notably, men take up more space than women; larger groups of people tend to take up less space per person by crowding together; and Americans are the greediest bunch when it comes to how much beach territory they claim.
When asked how many people it would take for the beach to be crowded, the French had by far the highest crowding estimates (meaning they felt the beach would fit the most people), while the Germans had the lowest (Americans falling in the middle).
The French were also more laissez-faire about the whole experience. According to Neurotic Physiology, they were confused by the basic concept of beach territory, saying that the beach belonged to everyone so who were they to make a personal claim on space. There’s not a lot of other academic research on the subject, but it seems that Americans, to this day, have no problem opining about the need for personal beach space. In 2012, the travel company TripAdvisor asked 1,400 Americans how close was too close to sit near another group at the beach, and most people said that somewhere between three to six feet was the bare minimum of distance necessary:
The closest acceptable distance to sit next to another stranger at a crowded beach is three feet, according to 27 percent – while a further 26 percent set a boundary of six feet, and 15 percent say four feet meets their comfort levels.
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