People watching is a rather simple pastime, one meant for people who like to observe. All it takes is finding a nice location to relax, whether sitting on a bench or on the grass. Then you just enjoy yourself and watch all the people as they pass by.

Watch the variety of fashions people wear, the difference in appearances, the way people carry themselves. Look at the different interactions between people, that pair of friends laughing and poking at each other, the couple with their hands joined, the people in a hurry and the ones taking their time.

This is something that works best in locations where large amounts of people come by. The mall, an amusement park or even a regular park, downtown, or anywhere near where people go by on foot in large numbers.

As the awe-inspiring Saige wrote, people watching can be a very entertaining activity. I have taken up the 'hobby' myself, and I have found many disturbing trends in it. I have also found it to be a very relaxing hobby to do while I sit at the mall during my one hour lunch break.

To be able to sit back, take yourself out of the business that surrounds you, and just watch what people do when they are out in public: the mannerisms that people exhibit, the tone of voice people use when talking to a parent, loved one, spouse, child, etc, the facial expressions used, the way people travel in packs, how people walk. I have recently taken to the task of writing down my observations while sitting in the mall, and the results are very interesting.

If you have the time, or the patience, sit down with a notepad, and jot down observations. Do this activity daily, and notice who appears numerous times, or what times do people get the most irritable. It is well worth the time spent.

LIBRARY, 1997.

    "Sounds like an undertaking which will require a bevy of empirical testing on our parts..."
    "Well it, um, hold on - do you see that girl leaning against the railing over there?"
    "With the notepad? Yeah, she's pretty cute, with that stripey -"
    "Yeah yeah, that's the one - I think she's watching us.
    Observing us."
    "Okay: here's the plan... on the count of three we get up and do something goofy."
    "One... two... three!"
We get up out of our chairs; I spin around and flap my arms like wings, while he bends over, grabs his feet and tries to pull them to touch the top of his head while uttering operatic phrases. After a few brief but furious seconds of this impromptu spaz session, as if on cue, we return to our seats at the same time, adjusting, brushing ourselves off and regaining our composure.
    "Think she saw us?"
    "Can't see how she couldn't have. What's she doing now?"
    "Surprise surprise, writing something down."
    "Hold on a minute - I'm going to get to the bottom of this."
He gets up and confidently strides up to the scribe, too busy taking notes to be aware of his approach until he is almost upon her. He nods and his lips move - they are too far away for me to overhear. She utters something in response and he gets in the last word - hitting on her, perhaps? Probable. He calmly returns to our table, grinning.
    "What's the story?"
    "Sociology student, recording people's responses when they realise she's watching them."
    "As usual, I suspect we're members of the cohort that has the most fun."
People are so beautiful, and so very interesting. Up close, they tell amazing stories to the unobserved observer. Far away, they shift between colorful patterns, singletons and groups in a paradise of chaotic asynchronous behavior. People are the opposite of boring.

I routinely turn my friends on to people watching, bringing them to a mall, or the park, or simply by exposing them to the people watching meme when we're in a good place to partake. They always mention it later, and tell me about what interesting things they saw when they tried it alone. Everybody sees something different, too; I've had friends point out everything from the ten thousand ways to carry a baby, to the skewed pinwheel created by ice skaters circumnavigating a rink.

Some places are better for watching people than others. It depends on whether you're going for the up-close, eavesdropping, deep inspection style of watching, or the distanced, motions and patterns style. Stress and hecticness (hecticosity?) make for more interesting viewing, as does the experiencing of new or unusual things. Children are profoundly fascinating, too. My favorite places are:

Malls:
Around Christmas, mostly. The usual rampant consumption takes on a certain ferocity. Drivenness to get over with a process that may be taxing, painful, gratifying, easy, difficult, or any combination of the above -- buying gifts. Peoples' emotions are so confused around Christmas, you can see it on their faces, so many wonderful and terrible memories being forced to the surface by the usual holiday stimuli.

Sitting here and there in the food court yields access to all manners of conversation; forced holiday cheer with unpleasant friends, kids deftly plugging the material goods which most desire, memories of loved (or unloved) ones who departed during one of the holiday seasons passed, teens discussing everything they're going to accomplish over their two weeks of break. Laughter and tears.

My favorite positions for distanced viewing are the benches on the third floor, from which you can look down through the giant, glass fenced holes in the floor upon the levels below. People walk differently in malls; since the main halls are so wide, they can walk five or six abreast, instead of in the cluster formation seen in other places. Their reaction to stairs is cool too, as groups -- especially those made up of young people -- break stride and choose to either go down the ramp or use the stairs, all while dodging people coming from the other direction and keeping in line with their group.

Restaurants:
Expensive rich folks restaurants are good, as flavorless fast food appears to attract people with flavorless things on their mind. It's an intimate view of a side of life that I sometimes disbelieve the existence of entirely. People who care about fashion and regular, professional hair styling. People whose mood for the day depends on the ups and downs of their portfolio. People who know what vintner and vintage they want without so much as opening the wine menu. People who are deeply and personally offended if their server mispronounces the name of a dish.

Restaurants in the heart of a foreign neighborhood are always great, as well. The sound of a speech in a tongue wholly unlike English. Unlikely combinations of vowels and glottal stops and fricatives, the seamless flow of the Romantic languages, the border between what is clearly communication and what is just noise. A Mexican girl singing her baby brother to sleep. A lively argument in Hebrew (or is that Yiddish?) between two bearded men in yarmulkes.

College Towns:
Filled with college kids, college dropouts, college graduates, and townies who want nothing to do with the college. The one I live in has a lively, beautiful downtown where you can acquire anything from sixty year old swing records to Vietnamese food to a slightly overfilled baggie of weed. Needless to say, it attracts an endless variety of both perfectly "normal" people and obvious weirdos, who, by virtue of the open mindedness of the town's populace, intermingle and take no umbrage to each others' presence. It's fun to see plaid clad punks opening the door for septagenarians who just got out of church, and Abercrombie fratboys surreptitiously checking out the lesbian couple that walks by hand-in-hand.

The University its self is great too. It has tall buildings with large windows and windowsills on which you can sit on and observe the social experiment below for hours at a stretch. University students are always terrifically colorful and attractive too, by virtue of their youth. They move really fast too, it's crazy how much faster they get from point A to point B than (for instance) the mall people, a byproduct of limited time between classes. Going between classes yourself is also enjoyable, as you get very (physically) close to people by passing them while walking. Close enough to see the color and detail of their eyes, smell their scents, or read their shirts.

Raves:
If people are interesting in their day to day sobriety, they are an order of magnitude more so while under the influence of entheogens and/or powerful music. They dance, and touch, and congregate, and smile. There's the guy on the dance floor who moves as though his joints are liquid, and the girl hugging the speaker whose expression describes a paroxysm of bliss. At a good party there whole hours may pass without seeing anyone who isn't having the time of their life.

Watching a party from above is a rare treat, too. Dancers form circles and patterns, with non-dancers shifting gracefully between them to get to the other side of the floor. Trainspotters collecting around the DJ booth wax and wane according to the interest in whoever's playing at the time. Excited ravers run across the barren warehouse floor to hug a friend they haven't seen in months. All of this happens under and within enormous moving, flashing cones of light from intellibeams through smoke, vivid and powerfully bright.

I have to admit that until 2 months ago, I was the kind of guy who would notice nothing about anybody. If a girl came up and started flirting blatantly, I would probably not notice until she flashed me her tits. That was before I started going out with my current girlfriend, who, for your information, did not attract my attention in the aforesaid manner.

After I had been going out with her for a short while, I would notice that every so often she would tune out everything that I was saying, and be more interested in some guy sitting at a table in the opposite corner of the Starbuck's we were sitting in. Understandably, I was a little confused, not to mention hurt, until I asked what she was doing, and I was told that she was people watching.

"You what?" I said

"What d'you mean, you what?"

She replied, looking at me incredulously as I got the sinking feeling that I was once again missing out on something big, as so often seems to happen to me.

As the conversation continued, I learned that my girlfriend is such an accomplished people watcher that she can spot an attraction between two people from 100 paces, before they notice it themselves, and can instantly tell someone's mood when they walk in the room. And here was me, floundering around in the dark as to what people were thinking. I mean, she can even lip read as an aid to people watching. How good is that? As far as I can see, if you people watch enough, it leads to a sort of basic telepathy, since she can always tell when one of her friends is feeling down, even when said friend is in a different county. What's more, she is right 100% of the time!

Sometimes I find this skill scary, and maybe (well ok definitely) a little nosey, but I am always impressed when I am told who will be going out with whom next, and the prediction is invariably proved right.

So, to all you people watchers out there, I'm trying to learn your skill, under the patient tuition of my beloved, but it is a slow process. I am in admiration of all of you who can read others so easily.

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