People watching: one of life’s simple pleasures

indian street scene with females and ducks

Who doesn’t love the chance to simply sit back and see the world go by, especially if you can throw a little people-watching into the mix. Rebecca Jacobs takes time out to tell us some favourite Intrepid places to get a feel for a community and observe the locals in action…

“People-watching is one thing you just don’t do enough at home. Your days always end up being rushed and fumbled through – catching trains, sitting in traffic, grabbing a coffee to go before sitting down for work. But people watching is one of life’s simplest and most rewarding pleasures and when you travel, the opportunity presents itself everyday and offers insight into the vibe of the city and your own place within it.

It’s hard to keep up with hectic, fast paced, hustle and bustle of a local market. The smells of fragrant spices, sounds of food sizzling and bargains being dealt is overwhelming to say the least, but people-watching is one of the best parts of visiting a market square. When funds are low and the souvenirs have already been purchased, get out of the hotel and head to a souk or bazaar for a hit of cultural studies. We suggest you find a sneaky window seat in a small café or a plastic chair by a food stand to watch the world go by.

Our suggestions:
Grab a fresh orange juice and watch Djemaa el-Fna in Marrakech come to life. It is a playground for hustlers, where hagglers verse bargain hunters on a quest for the most dirham, everyone is looking to make a quick buck. It will seem like you have taken a fascinating step back in time, with men selling fake teeth to the toothless and snake charmers gathering on the sidewalk, just watch out for the con men who throw monkeys at passing tourists and charge for the ‘experience’.

Tuk-tuk towards a sensory overload in Goa. Every Wednesday morning and Saturday evening, Arpora puts on huge beachside market, which delights travellers with its array of food, textiles and silverware. After the immediate waft of fragrant spices, expect a lot of bright tapestries, persistent salesmen and an endless repetition of colourful kaftans and patterned harem pants – the official uniform of Goan tourists. It is difficult to take in the whole picture of this crazy marketplace, but the variety of people creates an interesting cultural clash that is very intriguing to watch.

Sidewalk cafes are one of the best places to really gaze into the lives of others; People-watching in cafés offers a more intimate insight into relationships. Watch couples coo at one another, business deals being dealt and the Real Wives of Paris catch up on gossip over strong lattes. People-watching in a café is like visiting a zoo for humans.

Our suggestions:
People say that France is the romance capital of the world, but cafés seem to be a prime breakup hotspot. While tragic, and a little like watching a car crash in slow motion, if you hang around long enough, it is likely that you may see tears shed upon croissants and cappuccinos whipped across the table. It is a crazy scene to accidentally sit in on, but a gold mine for people-watching enthusiasts. Just ensure you gaze with caution.

Rooftop coffee bars are one of the few respites from the endless happenings of a Vietnamese street. Dodge the motorbikes, escape the hawkers, pray for your life and enter a small coffee shop in Hanoi. Many French-influenced cafes in Vietnam are tiny downstairs, so clamber up to the second floor and find yourself a seat looking over the terraced balcony and onto the bustling streets below. The perfect place to take a breather, grab an iced coffee and observe as an omnipresent force from above. Look down on the street and see the crazy commotion without actually having to be apart of it (for a few minutes at least).

So, you have a 12-hour stop over at a dodgy airport with no duty-free shops! What to do? People-watch of course! Airports are great for it. Big or small, all airports offer insight into pure, uninhibited human interaction. There is something so touching about witnessing an old married couple fall asleep on one another’s shoulders, or a businessman agitatedly tapping his foot awaiting his boarding call.

No one is trying to impress in an airport: people are tired, a little unclean or wearing yesterday’s clothes, but everyone is in it together. Non-judgmental smiles are exchanged and everyone is doing the exact same thing: waiting.

Our suggestions:
Chatting about your flight being delayed or the destination you are heading will help kill the insufferable loneliness of the airport lounge, and unifying with a stranger in a race to the boarding flight is common practice. Even if you don’t actually get to have a chat, seeing someone embrace their missed love one or make a comfortable nest out of backpacks creates a peculiar sense of stranger camaraderie, which happens so rarely in the outside world.

So, though you might not have enough hours in a day in your own home life, make sure you take some well-deserved timeout on your next trip and see how people get through their day-to-day lives in another country. It is a calming experience to watch someone else race to catch their train to work, or mingle with their friends over a cup of coffee, and it’s a right of passage for travellers who need a little time out.”

Where are you favourite places to people-watch?

* photo by Alex Bishop – Intrepid Photography Competition

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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Theresa Winchester / Reply

I can’t get past the title to read your article, Sue. The plural of how and why and where and when and what is hows and why and wheres and whens and whats. No apostrophe needed. If respected writers (or is that writer’s? NO, to make a noun into its plural form always always always just add an s or es. And even if you are using abbreviations, i.e., DVDs, CDs, etc., no apostrophe. This is not difficult) can’t get this right, how will the masses?'

You’re absolutely right, Theresa. I’ve changed the title of the piece per your feedback. Cheers! Ollie

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