Journey of Life

the place formerly known as control your destiny

People Watching

One of my favourite hobbies of all times is people watching. Ok! I have a minor full on addiction to people watching. There’s just something incredibly fascinating about it. In fact, if someone came to me and offered me a regular income (I am not asking for much!!) for doing nothing other than watching people and creating little stories about them, I think I would have just landed my dream job!

The best part of this particular hobby is that it doesn’t cost anything, unless of course you decide to travel to a specific location to do your people watching. I guess that is what train spotters do!! Or do they just gather at the same station every time??

One of my favourite places to watch people are places like airports, train stations (I am NOT a train spotter!!) or anywhere associated with travel as it brings big crowds together in one place. People from all walks of life and from all kinds of different cultures.

Also, travelling often seems to bring out the best and the worst in people. Some are excited at the prospect of going off to some exotic location or to be with a friend or relative while some are stressed and apprehensive or perhaps even frightened to a certain extent, but everyone has their own story to tell and the interesting thing is that most of the time they wouldn’t even have to say a word to tell their story. Simply observing their body language and their facial expressions is enough to build or create a story in my mind. If I was a writer I would spend the majority of my writing time in places like these because the inspiration seems endless.

It also makes me wonder how I would be perceived by someone performing the art of people watching. What kind of story do I inspire by my behaviour and body language? Am I the excited one or am I the stressed out fearful traveler? I am pretty confident that I have portrayed both types of behaviour as well as some in between. If it is a journey I am familiar with I am usually very relaxed about the whole affair despite often traveling by myself. If, however, it is unknown territory then I will often display rather selfish behaviour especially if I am in a rush to be in a certain place at a certain time.

When I headed back to Denmark for Christmas last december it became one of those journeys where things didn’t quite go to plan!

It was the 18th December and I had an early flight to catch. I left my house at 5 in the morning, headed in to town to catch the coach to Heathrow. It had started to snow at this point, which is never a good sign if you live in the UK. It usually takes no more than a few snow flakes to put the country into a state of chaos! However, the coach arrived only a few minutes late and we set off. I remember feeling pleased with my ingenious decision to get the early coach. This only lasted until about 15 minutes later when I had a text message from the airline informing me that my flight had been cancelled due to severe weather conditions at Heathrow! At this point I had no option but to continue so I decided that once I got there, I’d go to the check in desk for further information and to establish if I’d be able to get on a later flight. I was in good spirit and it had never crossed my mind that other people would be traveling that day too! That is until I got to the airport!!

As I arrived at the terminal and found the check in desk for my airline, I was greeted by a queue of people the length of which (at least in my mind) was at least three miles (I have a tendency to exaggerate things like this). The queue could help explain the difficulty I had in locating the check in desk! I also experienced some difficulty in finding the end of the queue as it was all over the place! For the next 90 minutes I was stuck in this queue, but the really frustrating part was the fact that I wasn’t entirely sure if I was in fact in the right queue and yet I felt reluctant to give up my place in it to investigate further in fear of having to go further back in the queue, so I stayed put (call me a sheep if you like).

During my time in the queue I was next to a girl but I was convinced that I was at least in front of her but I got the feeling she thought she was in front of me which then led to the weirdest battle in history! We both kept trying to maintain our space in the queue while at the same time trying to get one step ahead of one another. This bizarre battle went on for a while until she asked a couple behind us in the queue if they’d look after her luggage for a few minutes. I guess she didn’t ask me because she feared I might just leave her luggage behind just to increase my lead in the race to the check in!! A few minutes later she came back, collected her luggage and off she went. I was too busy gloating in my glory of firmly being one step ahead to wonder where she’d gone despite the fact that we’d been scheduled on the same flight!

I finally got to the point where the check in desk was in sight and within reach but much to my despair I discovered that another queue had formed for the ticket desk! I managed to catch the attention of someone who looked like he worked there hoping that he could shed some light on which queue I was meant to be in. He seemed to think I ought to be in the ticket queue but he didn’t exactly fill me with confidence and at the same time I felt even more reluctant to switch queues, as this would mean that I would now have to admit to  myself that, due to my sheepish behaviour, I had wasted 90 minutes in the wrong queue.

In the end I was told that I had to join the ticket queue, which luckily seemed a lot shorter but the problem was the fact that it didn’t seem to move at all. To add insult to injury, I was now stuck two places behind the exact same girl I had battled with in the first queue. In truth, I was feeling rather embarrassed at the selfish behaviour I had displayed earlier. Luckily she didn’t seem to hold a grudge and I soon got talking to her as well as another couple.

Another 90 minutes went by, during which time I had only moved a few feet and was beginning to lose all hope of getting back to Denmark before Christmas.

I went into observation mode again and began noticing how little groups of people were forming in the queue just like the four of us. I have always been intrigued by how easily strangers seem to bond in situations like these, I am including myself in this bonding affair! I find it fascinating that complete strangers can so easily find common ground to the extent that during the time in the queue the four of us got to know each other pretty well and also managed to help keep each other calm. We had known each other for only a short amount of time at this point and yet, as I am writing this, I can picture their faces clearly!
They finally announced that the plane had been reinstated and that we’d be taking off within the hour, which meant not having time to do anything other than racing through security and straight to the gate and with that, the bonding session was now firmly over! It was now back to every man and woman for themselves, with one exception; the swedish girl, who was now a bit ahead of me in the security queue (how did she get there so fast?) did very kindly ask if I wanted to join her in the queue. I declined on the basis that everyone had been through their fair share of queueing. I was also slightly concerned that had I accepted, I might have been lynched!!

When we finally got airborne the captain informed us that the reason for the cancellation and the chaos wasn’t the alleged severe weather, but the fact that I had foolishly chosen to fly to Copenhagen on the same day as Barack Obama was joining the climate conference in Copenhagen!!!

Free travel tip from J: Never travel on the same day as a government official, especially if it is the President of the United States!

I made it back though and it was such a wonderful break. I was also treated to a good look at Air Force One as we taxied to the gate…

11 responses to “People Watching

  1. Viv May 6, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    I take notes in such places but I don’t think I could actually write properly; too many distractions. That said, I did write half of The Piper at the Back Gate sitting waiting to meet the Eurostar and collect students.
    I know a lot of writers write at coffee shops and so on; I don’t think I could write fiction. It’s too private an activity for me and I’d be forever wondering if someone were trying to read over my shoulder. I find it hard enough at home to think stories if there’s anyone around who might speak to me!!!
    But they are sources of inspiration.
    I did enjoy reading this though at the time I was getting updates either by email or by text!!! I know what an anxious time it actually was….

    • J May 9, 2010 at 9:31 am

      Thank you for being on the receiving end of the text messages that day 😉
      I understand what you mean about people looking over your shoulders. I also think that a place like an airport would be a challenging environment to write in due to the level of distraction….but that said I would be happy to give it a go.

  2. Mysoul May 6, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    This is such a wonderful read…You are right about bonds forming in queues, but it requires all involved to be in approachable mode. I was in that girls place once and it began to get a little uncomfortable. I had to end the competetion and so turned around and asked the person behind me “Would you like to go first?” Of course he said no, but after that there wasnt any competition.

    People watching is my hobby too, although I have to do it on the sly here, as staring is considered rude. Airports, bus/train-stations, queues, weddings, gatherings for festivals, tourist spots, cafes and roadside Food stalls are all places to file away little anecdotes of characters and stories in the brain. . Also traffic stop at busy intersections have lots of stories too, the ones walking,the drivers and passengers all have potential for stories.

    • J May 9, 2010 at 9:38 am

      I now know that my behaviour in that queue was an embarrassing display of selfishness on my part. You acted in a much more respectful way…a lesson I will take on board should I ever be in a situation like that again!

      I am still dreaming of the day when I somehow manage to turn people watching into a way of earning a living!!!

  3. summerrain63 May 7, 2010 at 6:50 am

    I like to sit on a bench in the mall…find someone interesting…stare at them….starting way off in the distance…they become aware and I love to watch their expressions….wondering what I am staring at….are their pants unzipped…do they have something hanging from their nose….it becomes comical to me….

    Would like to see Air Force One sometime….that would be cool….smiles and waves as I have not been around of late….have missed your stories….smiles

    • J May 9, 2010 at 9:42 am

      I can picture you on that bench!! I also know the feeling of being watched and I often go through the same thought process as your “victims” 🙂

      Air Force One was a great sight. It is massive and talk about traveling in comfort!!!!

  4. shiona May 7, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Hm… You have given me a lot to think about. You reminded me of when I was younger and used to enjoy people watching. For a long time now I’ve been so engulfed in my own little world that I seem to have forgotten how interesting it was.
    Your post made me wonder why I have stopped doing this. I usually day-dream on the bus and I become oblivious of everyone else. I try hard to avoid standing in queues and when I have to, I don’t look at people in order to discourage them from talking to me. I’m no longer curious about strangers, I think. On a broader scale, I feel I’ve lost a certain vitality that has taken away with it a lot more than that…

    • maddy May 8, 2010 at 4:40 am

      This reminds me of an incident when I was doing this people watching in a “Babyshop” leaving my wife pick things and I was looking around. It was a wonderful experience to see the emotions of kids,their tantrums, parents dilemma, cutting across lines.
      . One peculiar thing i noticed, one lady picked up some dress but not sure if that was good…..she was holding the dress for sometime and then kept it in the rack and standing close to that. When another lady touched this dress in the rack, the previous one picked it very fast and said to the other. No…don’t touch it…I have choosen this already……I was wondering her psychology!

      • J May 9, 2010 at 9:52 am

        You have me wondering her psychology too!!! That is (in my book) a strange kind of behaviour!! Did she actually buy the dress in the end??

    • J May 9, 2010 at 9:51 am

      Like you, I am often engulfed in my own little world. A place where I feel safe and where all is well.
      My love for people watching comes from my curiosity and interest in trying to understand how us humans behave in certain situations..

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