When I’m by myself in public with nothing to do or read, I settle for people watching. Eating alone, on a bus/train, in a meeting I don’t need to be, there are times I let my mind drift and observe the people around me.
I have a friend who invents crazy stories for people she’s observed: this guy is on the run because he’s murdered his wife, this lady just stole something expensive from a shop, this little girl hates her brother, and other kinds of mayhem. I remember clearly when someone showed up in our group that she had imagined to be a serial killer and it took her a long time to trust this (nice) guy! So much for making up crazy stories about the observed…
I tend to enjoy watching people in groups. Seeing who is involved, who is leading a conversation, who is itching to be somewhere else. Or who is watching me watch them. 🙂
As an outsider I might see the waitress get frustrated with the too-focused man arguing with his friend and inadvertently ignoring polite enquiries of “More coffee?” I might hear the group talk about someone who hasn’t arrived yet, and watch the dynamics change when X shows up.
I remember traveling on business some years ago and listening to two guys talk brazenly and openly about a bid on a project that my company was also bidding on, and said a polite “Thank you” to their dawning horror when I had to leave. A few weeks ago, my friend from Sacramento was on a flight from Albany to Washington DC and overhead two other people talking about her IT project in Sacramento!
When I was living in Bern, I remember being on a train in central England, in a set of 4 seats where the two facing me were occupied by a couple speaking Swiss-German. I spoke some German, not Swiss-German, but recognized the language. After a while, I realized that their accent was very similar to the accent I heard in Bern every day, except a little slower, a little broader. As we arrived in London, I asked them if they minded if I guessed where they were from. Of course, no way can you do it, they said, confident like all Swiss that no-one can understand their difficult dialect. So I led them on. Like German, but not German. Austria…no, Switzerland probably. They got a little nervous; they’d assumed privacy in the open. Perhaps Bern. They perspired. Perhaps not Bern, but the Emmental? Eeek, they squeaked. I don’t remember what I said in Bärn-Dütsch as I left, because I only ever learned a few sentences, but they thought I was fluent and were quite pink before I was out of sight. I wish I knew what they had been talking about!
There’s no important theme, message or moral to this, just a glimpse into my wandering mind as I munch on breakfast and wait for the Verizon person to arrive to fix the backup battery.
Maybe there is one message: Don’t assume you can talk about private/confidential things in public when others are in earshot; you never know what coincidence might occur.