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The Art of Observation

March 11, 2010

According to Wikipedia, people watching can be defined as “the act of observing people and their interactions, usually without their knowledge.” Given that particular definition, I would call myself a pro in the field of “people watching.”

How does one become a professional you may ask? There are rules. Nothing crazy or complicated. Just a few simple rules that I’ve picked up, compiled and put into practice.

Rule #1: Sunglasses are only effective outdoors. Wearing sunglasses inside draws attention to yourself in a negative way. When people watching, there is no need to draw attention to yourself. Even if it is on your own terms.

Rule #2: If you happen to make prolonged eye contact do not look away immediately. If you’ve done this before, not to worry, it’s a rookie mistake. Moving forward, just smile politely and look away casually. The key here is to remain cool, calm and collected. Do this, and you may, just may, be able to salvage your people-watching session.

Rule #3: Never, I repeat, never take copious notes when people watching. This will backfire on you 70% of the time, every time.

Rule #4: If you choose to take photographic evidence, do so at your own risk. I have no real insight or guidance to offer here, as I’m still fine-tuning my own photography skills (I’ve had a set back or two…). What I can tell you is that a blackberry picture will never ever capture the true perfection of a quality sighting.

Rule #5: Be patient. People-watching is like bird-watching. That Spoon-billed Sandpiper isn’t going to fly right past you people. You have to wait for it, patiently.

Armed with those 5 rules, I believe that you, my devoted reader, will be well on your way to becoming a pro. And please, if you discover new rules, share them with me. After all, two heads think better than one.

Now that we’ve got the rules laid out it’s time to move on to more important matters. Recent Starbucks spottings:

  • The “complicated order” patron. This particular person is liable to pop up at anytime and it just so happened that I was stuck behind one on a particularly busy day. I decided to treat myself to a latte in between my 4th and 5th meeting of the morning. Standing there, I was already putting together my to-do lists from earlier meetings when I began to pick up bits and pieces of the order in front of me. In all my years, I have never, and I mean never, heard such a complicated and drawn out order for a coffee. It went as follows and please note that I’ve provided, for your enjoyment, my internal monologue: “I haven’t been to Starbucks in so long, I forget my usual order [I’m going to be so late]. I think, no wait, I’m sure it was…oh just a minute. I think it was a hot drink [how could she not remember if it was hot or cold??]….oh yes, it was definitely hot [thank goodness we’ve cleared that up]. Ok, I’m ready now [I think the man behind me is going to decapitate this woman]. I would like a grande, 110 degree, nonfoamy, nonfatty milk latte [why did she say nonfatty and nonfoamy?]. But I can’t remember if I like two or three pumps of vanilla….ohhh..ummm…let’s go two for now and then I can just have you add more if I don’t like it. Sound good? [I should have gone to Dunkin Donuts].
  • A therapy session. Yes Starbucks is a place to meet, catch up, gab, gossip, discuss business, have an informal interview…but a therapy session?? A new one for me. And it was an INTENSE therapy session at that. I’m talking crying, arguing, silent treatment type therapy (it was hard to obey rule #2 in this instance). I now know more about this particular person than I ever wanted to and can safely say it was one of the more uncomfortable moments I’ve ever experienced at Starbucks.
  • Hugh Laurie. Well not exactly Hugh Laurie because this man sounded like he was from the deep South but nix the Southern drawl, add a rugged British accent and viola!, it would have been Hugh Laurie. I attempted to take a picture but was too far away and didn’t want to post a blurry blackberry Hugh Laurie image. He wasn’t my only celebrity look a lighting sighting…for those that follow me on Twitter, I’m sure you will recall my close run-in with “Jake Gyllenhaal” (sigh, swoon, sigh).

I’m hoping that next week will be a little more eventful because as you can see, there seems to have been a lull this past week. But that lull inspired me to think about how I could get content and I came up with this: a “Spotted at Starbucks” movement! I’d love to add sightings that you, my dear reader, have seen.  So, if you’re on Twitter and happen to see something extraordinary or out of the ordinary at a Starbucks, use #spottedatstarbucks as your hash tag and tell me about it!

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