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How to Begin People Watching

by Jan Mh on February 02, 2015

How to Begin People Watching

People watching involves observing people to get a feel for the beauty and rhythm of the community around us. People watching is amazing. You can have some of the funniest laughs ever with you and your friends, especially in a place full of bad scruffs. For some people watchers, it's about creativity, using the moments of watching to try and guess at another person's story just from mere observation, and embracing the fun of what is, in effect, an amateur social science.

People watchers observe speech in action, relationship interactions, body language, and activities; it's also common to include listening in to conversations. Indeed, all the senses can be put to good use when people watching, even down to trying to guess a person's perfume or aftershave as they walk by. Here are some suggestions for enjoying the art of people watching.


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    Decide the parameters of your people watching. It helps to know why you're watching. There can be any number of reasons but the main impetus is observation of how other people live and behave and guessing at their motivations and life stories. And people watching is not about feeling superior to others or judging them; more than anything, you're a non-judgmental observer with a penchant for unearthing life's stories as an art of love and empathy. Some reasons for people watching include:
    • It's relaxing and enjoyable. Seeing other people have fun, dressed up, going about daily activities is enjoyable and even soothing as you sit somewhere comfortable like a cafe or park bench under the sun. People are fascinating, so this reason really needs no more explanation!
    • It passes time while you're waiting or while you're sitting with people who don't interest you much but you're obliged to stay with them.
    • It restores a sense of wonder. Children are renowned for people watching and just by trying it again, you can regain this sense of wonder for a brief moment in time.
    • It's informative. If you're writing a book or developing characters for a play, observing people can be an excellent way to find traits and styles for your characters. In addition, if you're an actor, observing other people is a window to other ways of standing, walking, talking, and interacting in a natural environment. And it's a great opportunity to test your learning or theories about body language.
    • It's an excellent source of artwork or photography. If you're an artist or a photographer, unaware people can make brilliant subjects.
    • It's inspiring. Watching people can lead to writing a symphony, movie script, or a blog post.[1]
    • It's a healthy alternative to Facebook or Instagram stalking.
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    Practice naturalistic observation not intrusive nosiness. Naturalistic observation is the practice of observing subjects in their natural habitat.[2] This means being unobtrusive, unnoticed, and non-interfering. The moment you become any of these things, the spell is broken and you've interacted and it's no longer "people watching".
    • Realize that some places are better for people watching than others. New York City, Paris, Miami, Rio de Janeiro and Venice present ideal venues for people watching because people know they're on display, and being seen. Any city where people dress up to show the world their fashion flair or sense of style is likely to be an ideal people watching place. Less so the country town or the little city unless you can do so with great care and not draw attention to yourself.
    • Some observation methods are likely to be more acceptable in some places than in others. Taking photos of people in New York City usually won't have anyone blink an eyelid; doing so in the only main street of a local town might raise concerns. Know where it's fine to take shots of people and where it's frowned upon and don't cross that line. If someone does see you taking photos of them and they don't like it, oblige them by erasing the shot; this isn't about causing bad feelings.
  3. Begin People Watching Step 3.jpg