wikiHow to Begin People Watching

People watching involves observing people to get a feel for the beauty and rhythm of the community around us. Watching people 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 in trying to 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 a number of reasons but the main impetus is observation of how other people live and behave under different circumstances. And watching people 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 in 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 for someone 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 of 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.
    • It's a healthy and much more interesting 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.[1] 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.
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    Select a location to watch from. The tried and true locale is sitting in a cafe looking out on a busy street. This is the classic Parisian positioning and even if it's cold, find yourself a suitably large and clean window to peer through. There are plenty of other options though, including:
    • Upstairs balcony of a shopping center.
    • Under a tree at the park, sitting around at lookouts,[2] or anywhere that tourists and locals like to congregate.
    • Sitting around a public pool or at the beach; at a party or a rave (it's interesting to watch how people change as the event goes on).
    • As people enter or leave a movie theater, play, doctor's office, etc.
    • Taverns, pubs, bars, etc.
    • Theme parks, zoos, aquariums, and other places where your feet invariably get sore and you just need to sit down and watch the world pass by.
    • Dog runs. Where dogs socialize, so are their owners.
    • Stores, including thrift stores and bookstores.
    • Art galleries and museums.[3] Observing people observing something else can be very entertaining, especially those people who discuss what the subjects in the painting are thinking - how far can you peel this Russian doll?!
    • Don't neglect public transportation; it's prime people-watching territory as you're all glued to the spot staring at one another!
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    Stay unobtrusive. The important thing is to place yourself somewhere that you won't look conspicuous. This means making it appear that you're already occupied and not simply staring at people:
    • Look busy by reading, writing, or have something else to do while you watch.
    • Eat a meal or drink coffee or tea while you watch.
    • Wear sunglasses that make it hard to tell where you're looking.
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    Select a person on the street or nearby. Find a person who grabs your attention and who isn't about to disappear before you've a chance to observe them properly. While observing them, think about what sort of person they might be:
    • Ask yourself questions about each person you choose: Why are they here? Are they happy? Nervous? Irritable? Why? What does the way they hold themselves say about them? What about the way they talk? Does it match up?
    • Look at their clothes: What do their clothes suggest about them? Are they wealthy or poor? Are they stylish or completely clueless about fashion? Are they adequately dressed for the weather or not? Are they part of any pop culture or sub-culture?
    • From their style and mannerisms, what do you think this person's aspirations, politics, or job would be?
    • Spot "doppelgangers". This means trying to see people who look like people you know or well-known people such as movie stars. Who knows, you might even see a real one!
    • Do you recognize anyone? As you age, the people passing by you might be former lovers, bosses, teachers, or classmates. Keep your attention focused!
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    People watch with a pal. It can be twice the fun to people watch with a friend who is attuned to the art of people watching. Ask one another the questions outlined in the step above. You can even dispute each other's findings until you reach a shared conclusion that pleases both of you! Being able to share your thoughts on people watching can be both a fun and deeply connecting friendship ritual.
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    Record the above thoughts on the person. This step is optional and for some people might turn people watching into a bit of a chore. However, if you're absolutely dedicated to people watching as a regular hobby, you might enjoy recording your thoughts about the people you've observed, and if you're an author (including bloggers) or an artist, you can build on these observations to inspire your writing or art.
    • Carry a notebook and pen around with you on days you decide to people watch. Make it a special book just for that purpose - turn the event into a ceremony. Write down the details of what you see and hear from each person, if you can sketch the way they hold themselves. It'll keep the process interesting and you'll have subjects to keep for years.
    • Consider your observed people potential character stock for your novels and record every mannerism.
    • Take painting or acting classes if you'd like to record your people watching moments unobtrusively without a camera.
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    Watch with good intent. So that you don't come across as a voyeur or nosy body, be conscious of other people's need for privacy, space, and respect people at all times. Realize that you too are likely the subject of observation now and then, perhaps even as you're people watching one fine afternoon...
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    Know how to react if the observed observes back. Sometimes you will get caught observing and it will be considered staring. There are a number of ways to respond:
    • Simply smile, shrug, and look away.
    • Engage them in conversation if close enough, and explain what was so engaging or beautiful about them that made you look again.
    • Just look down and don't look up again until they've gone. For when you're feeling a little sheepish or afraid!
    • Physically turn away or get up and go if things seem uncomfortable.


  • Don't make it too obvious. If people know you're watching, they will act a lot differently than if they don't. And knowing they're being watched can scare a subject away, or make them irritable.
  • There are sites online dedicated to telling you where the best people spotting locations are. Check them out to see if there's anything where you live. Some city or tourist guidebooks also include details on the best places to people watch for relevant cities.
  • Let yourself wonder, in years to come, what has become of these people you almost met. Are they still as happy or hurried? Still on the same continent? With family? Asleep?
  • Further to keeping the process interesting, tell other people about your characters.
  • Post or start a blog about your hobby.
  • Don't forget the city's animals. Animals in urban environments can be fascinating too. As are your own pets!
  • Don't make it a habit. It may become compulsive and you won't enjoy other fun things.


  • People watching is not voyeurism. Don't disrespect anyone's privacy by doing something thoughtless like following them around or talking about them derogatorily to your friends.
  • Be on the look out not to start daydreaming when you're people watching. You may start picking your nose or scratching your head looking like a moron giving yourself away to the enjoyment of the people who're watching you in turn.
  • Be very careful if you're going to take photos, in some cultures it's not allowed and in many instances can result pretty awkward.

Things You'll Need

  • Notebook and pen; write neatly and let your book be something you treasure (optional)
  • Some cash if you want to go the coffee route
  • Sunglasses (optional)

Sources and Citations

  1. Wikipedia, Naturalistic Observation,
  2. Elena, People Watching at Mont Royal Lookout Points,
  3. Lollyknittingaround, People Watching,

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