What is the city – but the people?

You find me writing this whilst I wait for a hospital appointment, no nothing serious, it’s just a check up. So apologies if there are mistakes as I’m trying to write this on my phone. Whateve,r Apple say, this is still jolly well difficult – even if it’s the size of a brick. My appointment time has been and gone, the Doctor has been delayed, it’s hot and there seems to be all sorts of people waiting with me. Young, old, the slightly odd, the normal (whatever that is).

You’ve guessed it, I’m people watching. It’s one of my favourite “sports”, it’s free and I’m pretty sure I’m not hurting anyone. All you have to do is sit and watch people get on with their lives. It’s fun picking out people with their idiosyncracies – watch someone having a heated discussion on their phone, a mother trying to persuade her child that no, another chocolate bar isn’t going to happen, watch as someone checks their reflection in the shop window, or see the couple about to have an earth shattering argument. And all this whilst just sitting, standing or however you want to do it.

That is until you turn it into a game, start poking fun of the people you’re watching, or you make people feel uncomfortable. Maybe you stare for just a little too long and they catch you, maybe you notice someone watching you. Then it gets a little awkward, depraved and just plain creepy.

Yet I can’t help but notice that people watching is taking London by storm this summer (I use the term “summer” very loosely, this is the UK after all). I was out walking around town a few weeks ago and I grabbed a coffee in Covent Garden and sat at a window table. It was one of those days where it’s almost too hot to concentrate on anything – so I just spent a good half an hour people watching and letting my coffee go cold. I heard a gaggle of tourists discussing where the best place to watch people was (I was off the beaten track, I almost told them to head to the piazza – but hey, there’s a difference between eavesdropping and people watching). On another occasion I heard a teenage couple at Kings Cross announcing: “Let’s like totally stop and have a drink and people watch!” like it was something completely new that they’d just, like, made up. Ugh, why do people like to use the word like in every possible part of the, like, sentence?

I didn’t have the heart (or patience) to tell them that people have been watching other people for years. But rather than just kind of doing it now, like the early adopters did, everyone is openly announcing their intentions to watch others. Soon we’re going to be a bunch of people, watching other people, just like in the Jack Johnson song.

I’m still waiting to go into my appointment, only 30 minutes late.

Anyway, I’m more than surprised that there are online tutorials for people watching – I mean – really? Isn’t it a case of just sitting and opening your eyes? Apparently not, the guide lines include setting parameters, practicing your observation skills, location, location, location. Weird if you ask me, but hey. Then there are other sites where you can be given people watching games to do. Yes, like drinking games, only without the alcohol. Ok, I’ll admit – we have made up games – apologies to French readers out there, but the lover and I do play “Gay or French”, but these are spur of the moment things, and not something prescribed.

The anthropologist in me, and the sociologists among us agree that people watching allows us to learn about our culture and our environment. And while I completely agree, it’s not the same when everyone is doing it. My guess is that most people probably aren’t behaving naturally anymore because they know they’re probably being watched. And on that note, if you’re an avid people watcher, how do you feel when people watch you picking your nose or racing to catch the train?

Whatever happened to sticking your head in a good book, closing your eyes and accidentally falling asleep on in the park, or looking out the window daydreaming? Maybe I just have to accept that watching people is the new norm and people are going to do it whether I agree with their intentions or not. It is a free (ish) world after all…

And I was 45 minutes late into my appointment. If you’re interested of course.


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