People Watching People-Watching People

Lunch hour is more or less the same in every westernized capital and it doesn’t really matter where you are or what day of the week it is; lunch hour is lunch hour, right? People are on a very tight schedule and they have an important task at hand; eat! Anyone who has taken the time to witness that dynamic hour from an outsider’s perspective, without having to worry about running late, the length of the line or the last cherry Danish being ordered by the customer in front of them, knows that lunch hour is, arguably, the most active time of a business day. After all, “lunchtime” seems to be a universal time anyone and everyone can relate to.

What to make of lunchtime in Reykjavik then? Lines were of course present but the carefree, laid-back attitude of Icelanders did not betray the fact that they were on a schedule. They were on a deadline but the countdown to the end of the hour did not seem to worry them in the least.

One thing I did notice while shamelessly looking at the way people went by, silently wishing I knew more than 3 words in Icelandic, is that people watch the people who sit there and watch. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean it in a stalker kind of way, but I do think it triggers people’s curiosity when they realize you’re watching them. Of course, being we’re in 2010, it wouldn’t surprise me that some people will simply keep an eye on you when they notice you people-watching to make sure you’re not “up to something” but if we move past this unfortunate reality of fear that people out there are out to get us, we realize that the people we observe are looking at us in just the same way. Whether we peek skillfully from behind a newspaper or keeping a cup of coffee in front of our face as if it offered any kind of camouflage, we always end up with people watching us, no matter what trick we try to pull. We are never quite as subtle as we assume we are and it seems like people-watching is a craft we have yet to master. The end result is that we are left to wonder who is truly watching who? Of course there are those who purposely spend time to “people-watch” but what to make of those who take pleasure in spotting the ever so sneaky people-watchers? Are they people-watchers spotters? People-watchers watchers?

Whether it is by sitting on a bench in the park or peering out the window of a café, taking a moment as a tourist or a local and watching to see the way people act in their daily life, consider that as much as people are being watched, they also are doing their own watching for all kinds of reasons. People watch to feel connected, to judge or simply to pass the time but there are always thoughts, opinions and judgements behind those sets of eyes, behind the quick glances on the train. There will always be a sense of voyeurism to people-watching but it is also one of the greatest things about traveling as it gives a raw view of how a specific culture of people works. Reading on a culture is great and the news can give us a small glimpse of the realities other cultures are living but it’s by taking some of our own time to really immerse in that culture instead of simply satisfying ourselves being spectators that we can properly grasp the subtleties that are all around us, which is exactly what travel is about to begin with.

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