I’m definitely a people watcher. I always have been. In fact one of my favorite games to play while people watching is to create an elaborate backstory for every supposed interaction. My husband is especially good at playing along with me.
For example, two people out to dinner…
No wedding rings. First date? Second date? Dating a long time? Ex-spouses making the kid drop off? We read each visual cue and then we use a lot of our imagination. If I had a way to verify it, I’d say my husband was probably more accurate at these fabricated life stories than I am.
When you’re out by yourself, you have a different opportunity. Unless you have a hot date with your phone, you are probably more attuned to your environment than you would be if you were dining with friends and family. You watch more closely and even listen as well.
It’s not that you’re a weird, creepy, stalker type (at least I hope you’re not). It’s that you have no distractions and I think it’s our nature to observe human nature.
On a quick trip to New York City, I was presented with such an opportunity (and if you don’t take an opportunity to people watch in New York, it’s a missed opportunity, indeed).
As I was waiting for my hotel room to become available, I set out for a quick, casual bite and instead ended up at an overpriced, yet oh-so-delicious cafe.
The Location: Bouchon Bakery, The Shops at Columbus Circle
As I sat eating the Swiss Chard and Goat Cheese Quiche (which was to die for) and contemplated why I had ordered the still water for $4.75 instead of the tap water for free, my ear was struck by the young couple that sat beside me.
He was very chatty and dominated the conversation. She was rather quiet and soft spoken. Were they boyfriend and girlfriend? If I had to guess, I’d never put those two together. She was of Asian origin with overdone hair and make up. He seemed like he was fresh out of prep school spending his trust fund. He literally could have walked off the set of Gossip Girl (which is filmed nearby). He talked about the freshest salmon he’d ever had when he was in New Zealand last month. He mentioned how he’d like to get a photo of the “four of them” from last night and frame it for someone’s birthday. And he asked her if she’s still into anime.
Would you give someone a photo of yourself for their birthday? If she was your girlfriend, wouldn’t you know if she was still into anime? (She’s not). If they were co-workers, would they have posed for a picture together last night in a photo that was gift worthy? Whatever the situation, they both ordered the grilled cheese and tomato soup and made me very jealous.
Then my attention turned to the Japanese family sitting in front of me.
Let’s just start with how I knew they were Japanese. I DIDN’T. But it’s my story and they looked Japanese to me.
This table started with two women of about the same age (I’d vote late sixties) sitting next to each other and facing me. I thought they must be sisters. They could be friends but they were definitely two of a kind. They both ordered hot tea and sat with their backs to Columbus Circle. It was a gorgeous day with a gorgeous view. And they had their backs to it. That I couldn’t understand.
A short while later, a gentleman of about the same age joined them. He got the seat with a view. Husband? Brother? Friend? If I had to guess I’d say he was the husband of the woman on the left (since he sat across from her). There wasn’t else much of interest at this table except that they seemed both annoyed and confused with their waiter at the same time.
The most colorful story came from the bar where I saw a a very enamored French couple.
How do I know they were French? I couldn’t actually make out anything they were saying but as I was reading his lips, he definitely seemed to be speaking another language. But it was his body language that gave it all away.
He was sitting at the bar having a glass of red wine. She and her daughter walked up. The Frenchman reached out to his wife (I’ll assume) and they kissed and embraced as if they haven’t seen each other in years. Their daughter (I assumed) soon joined the couple clearly in love with her father. They hugged and she made him giggle endlessly. And he never stopped hugging and touching his wife, including his hand placed firmly, and somewhat inappropriately, on her bottom.
I guess the French really are lovers.
Then there was this guy at the bar.
Excuse the post-lunch zombie stare, I was trying to figure out the best way to snag a picture of this guy. He sat at the bar but ordered nothing stronger than a water, maybe even a coffee. Although he was with someone, he spent most of my listening time talking on the phone to his friend Mike.
“Mike,” he says. “I was just thinking about you this morning. As I was parking my car, I had this fantasy… well, no, not that kind of fantasy. I was thinking about many years from now when I retire and I thought of you. I thought of how I might be in a house in France and you would be one of the people that would come visit me.”
I think he was gay. Again, just going on instincts and observations. I thought that I’d certainly visit him if he had a house in France. And then I thought maybe he should talk to the sexy Frenchman at the end of the bar.
So what was my story? I was sitting alone with a big purse and a computer bag, chowing down on bread and butter like I’d never seen it before. It was clearly a table for one and I was wearing a bright sweater and way too much make up (out of the norm for me but trying to be camera-ready for TV taping).
I was actually sitting, enjoying the goodness of my food, trying not to worry about the calories, and missing my husband and son. I wonder if someone would have gotten my story right.
Oh my goodness I loved this post so much. I don’t so much make up stories about others but desperately try to listen to their conversations. Did the fantasy conversation with Mike really happen? That is so random and glorious and made all the more by the fact that that guy was sitting with someone else.
When you become friends with him, please invite me along on your trip to France.
YES. That conversation really happened. It was a like a gift. What’s even better is that that night, I sat at the bar at a nice restaurant since I was dining alone and got many more wonderful stories firsthand! I think being alone sometimes invites the conversation. And it’s fun if you’re in the mood for it.
I LOVE people watching! When I went to school in Boston I used to have a blast sitting in Boston Common or Harvard Square just watching people – the musicians trying to earn some money and get noticed; the tourists who wanted to see the REAL Boston, not the typical touristy stuff and were undoubtedly going to get lost at least once; the locals who took the beauty of the city for granted – it was awesome.
I love it too! I think my favorite people watching place was the NC State Fair. It is a BIG deal where people come with their cows from all over the state. And by people, I mean people who don’t get out much. It’s always interesting.