10 People Watching Methods | How to People Watch

Source: Roberto Verzo on Flickr.

By Josh Rueff on May 03, 2013

As people continue to stretch the boundaries of individuality through dress and mannerism, and as our culture becomes accustomed to observing friends and strangers alike from a safe distance (facebook stalking), people watching has found an amusing place in our vocabulary and activities. Slowly and subtly the hobby of people watching has evolved from a quirky pastime to a fine art.

The social implication of people watching still confines it in the gray area of taboo-ish conversational subject material – not necessarily first date material. However, many braver individuals have taken the idea and ran with it, which is how the art came to be.

People Watching Guidelines

1. Find a well populated place: Malls, Airports, Sporting Events, Restaurants, Cafes, Movie Theatres, Theatre-theatres, Church, Wal-mart, the Hospital, Parks, and whatever is outside of your window.

2. Think of demographics: Before you choose your location, think of the types of people you find most interesting – if you think old people are cute (I never really got that), station yourself near a retirement home. If you like to laugh at hipsters, visit a cafe you know they hang out in.  Birds of a feather.

3. Blend in: You want to people-watch, not be people-watched. Ditch the bling and Hawaiian shirts.

4. Be subtle: No one likes to be watched – there’s a fine line between watching people for fun and seeming creepy, and it’s hard for people to tell the difference. It’s best to maintain a low profile and be subtle. Sunglasses can help.

5. Take the high ground whenever possible: This is to your best strategic advantage – people never look up, giving you the advantage of staring without awkward eye contact. Sun Tzu would be proud.

6. Bring backup: People watching is almost always better with someone else – one other person is best; a group of people staring, pointing, and laughing is poor people watching etiquette.

7. Keep your phone handy: You never know when a youtube moment might happen. It’s best to be prepared, and besides that, taking pictures of your most memorable finds is best done with a phone, keeping guideline #4 in mind.

8. Binoculars are creepy: So are night vision goggles. Don’t bring them.

9. Bring your laptop if it’s convenient: If you’re going to a cafe to people watch, a laptop helps you blend in with the locals, and makes you look like you’re doing something. It also brings you within closer proximity to youtube and other social media sites, should something particularly interesting happen.

10. Bring a notebook: “You just said that.” No I didn’t. Think vintage, you know; cd’s, phones without touch screens – a notebook with paper in it.This will help you keep score and record other important information –  It’ll make more sense when you read the next section.

People Watching Methods

1. The Doppelganger: The most simple version of this method is to locate a look alike: The person can be a celebrity, friend, family, or historical character look alike. If you’re competing, the here’s a suggested point system:

-Historical Characters (pre-2000’s at least): 10

-Celebrity: 5

-Friends and Family: 2

Or just make a hash mark every time you find a look alike – but you have to point them out and all parties must agree.

You can vary this method quite a bit – use your imagination and have at it!

2. Dialogue Generating: Best (and only) done in 2’s. Just find two people in conversation – the livelier the better – and choose one of them to privately harass. Speak for the person you chose using the person’s body language to match your tone, attitude, and topic. Then your partner will respond in like fashion, when the person he or she has chosen starts talking. This is great for relaxed date nights.

3. The Sherlock Method: This is an advanced people watching technique that requires attention to detail and above all, deduction. It is best carried out on a stationary person near you so you can observe the smallest details and eavesdrop whenever possible. Attempt to guess – that is, deduct – your case study’s career, purpose/motive, marital status, and character based on your observations. Make a list or keep it in your head, and compare lists when you’re done. Or you can discuss your observations as you go, using teamwork to delve into your case study. For the most gallant people watchers, confirming the list with the case study is a go – just don’t expect a congratulations.

4. Pet/Owner Look Alike: This is pretty self explanatory. Find people that look like their pets. And laugh. Always pretend like you’re laughing at a joke your partner just said, nodding your head and saying things like “I KNOW RIGHT?” – and no pointing.

5. Subculture Classification: Find and observe the different subcultures in your line of sight. Hipsters, Nerds, Preppies, Emo’s, Freaks, Jocks, Trenchcoat Mafia wanna-be’s, Thugs, Wiggers, Skaters, Business Professionals, Sales Reps, LARPer’s, etc. See who can find the widest range of biodiversity.   

6. Mouse or Monkey: “That guy – mouse or monkey? Hmm, I would definitely go with monkey. Yeah me too. Okay her – mouse or monkey?” That’s pretty much how it goes.

7. Fiction Mode: This is similar to the Doppelganger, but instead of finding real life look alikes, choose imaginary characters. Characters from books, movies, video games, mythologies, and more. Example: “There goes Huckleberry Finn!” or “Look at him – King Leonidas of Sparta.

8. The Haiku Method: This is another advanced method for the poetically inclined. Conduct a haiku about your “case study”. The funnier the better. This is also a great way to practice writing alone. Many writers use people watching to come up with new characters, dialogue, and even subplots.

9. The Missing Link: This is usually more of a bonus point item to search for while using another people watching method, but in certain places it can take up your entire session (think Arkansas). If you haven’t figured this method – just find people that could legitimately be the evolutionary missing link.

10. The Rating Game: I didn’t save the best for last, but the rating game is probably the oldest, time-tested, classic method of people watching out there. Rating members of the opposite sex was around far before the term “people watching” came into existence. The most common system is the scale of 1-10, but you can also use ABC class system (A being the best, C the lowest), and I’m sure there’s plenty others.

Bonus Points: A Jesus look alike (modern Irish Catholic version or realistic Jewish/Arab featured) gets top bonus points, or is simply a game-winning trump card. People you know (and probably want to avoid). Gandhi, Buddha, Mother Theresa, Stalin, Hitler, Darwin, or Che look alikes.

Enjoy!
Josh

7 Comments

  1. Kora R. May 14, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    This is hilarious! Definitely played the mouse or monkey game growing up. Oh and the Doppelgangers…too funny, love How I met your mother!

    Reply

    • jbrueff May 31, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

      Haha, yeah, those are classics – glad you enjoyed!

      Reply

  2. James Donnelson May 15, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

    This is an excellent list. 🙂

    Reply

    • jbrueff May 31, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

      Thanks James, it was pretty fun to put together.

      Reply

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