After dropping Michelle off at Mille-Feuille Bakery, where she learned how to make macarons with French pastry chef Olivier Dessyn, I decided to take a short walk to Washington Square Park to do some people watching. I quickly found a bench, relaxed, and enjoyed my latte from Third Rail Coffee. In a city as populous as New York City, I serendipitously stumbled on my good Internet friend, Carlos Morales of Oven Fresh Dreams, at Third Rail. Crazy, right? My morning was off to a great start.
Often times, with the hustle and bustle of trying to hit up every must see scenic location in a new city, we tend to forget to slow things down to appreciate where we are. People watching, or, simply being in the moment, is a great way to observe the intricacies of any city that you’re visiting.
I could be sitting in a cafe watching people navigate through Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, or sitting on the lawn next to the Eiffel Tower. No matter where I am, I tend to follow three basic rules whenever I find myself purposefully, or spontaneously, people watching:
1. Find a place to sit with a drink in hand. For me, it’s usually a latte. The reason that I suggest having a drink in hand is two-fold. First, you’ll be able to actually enjoy your drink. Take nice, slow sips, and appreciate the blend. Second, you’ll look less like a creeper if you’re actively sipping on something.
2. Put the phone away. It’s hard, I know. I’ve learned, though, that you can’t effectively people watch unless the phone is tucked away in some far corner of your jeans pocket. When you do that, you’ll begin to notice all the little, random things that are happening around you. For me, it was that homeless man lounging on the field of grass behind me, laughing hysterically at a pigeon. Laughter really is contagious. It was also interesting to see random New Yorkers, stopping for a few seconds to look at the Washington Square fountain with the Washington Arch looming behind it. They would stop, look for a moment, and then continue on their way.
3. Start walking around the area, wander. No direction needed, just walk and be cognizant of the environment. Look around and try to see something new. I’ve been to Washington Square Park numerous times before, on previous trips, but never noticed the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian patriot and soldier. I walked around the fountain a few times, to get as many different perspectives of it as possible. I couldn’t help but think, as I saw children playing in the fountain water, how sad this kind of was. Growing up in Hawaii, we are very fortunate to have the vast Pacific Ocean as our playground. In New York City, it’s the fountain at Washington Square where kids come dressed in their swimsuits. Perspective is everything, though. And I am sure that the young kids running around under the spouting fountain are just as satisfied as the kids in Hawaii that get to frolic at Ali’i’s on the North Shore.
4. Eavesdrop. Seriously, eavesdropping is a fun people watching component. You’ll smile at the guy having a serious talk with his boss on the phone while trying to juggle a sandwich, cringe at the young couple arguing over something mundane, and you’ll reminisce when you hear a mom teaching her child a life lesson. Eavesdropping gives you a brief glimpse into the private lives of locals, but the key here is to not be obvious. Be stealth. That latte in your hand helps you to do that. Also useful is a pair of earbuds in your ear that aren’t actually playing anything.
There you have it, people watching in four easy steps. It really is one of my favorite things to do when visiting a new city. Plus, it’s a nice way to take a break. The next time you find yourself with achy feet after having walked several miles trying to check off everything on your itinerary, pause for a second, and people watch.