Posted in Family

Eaves-Dropping Not Required

My mother was an avid people-watcher.  Eaves-dropping often accompanied this, but was not required.

15-Year-Old Me:  So then I said to her, do you have the notes from last Friday?  And she said to me . . . Mom?  Are you listening?”
Mom:  Uh-huh . .
15-Year-Old Me:  Okay, so she said that she did have them but they were at home and I could come over and . . . Mom?  Are you sure you’re listening?
Mom:  Uh-huh . .
15-Year-Old Me:  Okay, so she said . . . Mom?  Who are you listening to?
Mom:  Uh-huh . .
15-Year-Old Me:  Mom, I’m going to dye my hair purple and join the circus.
Mom:  Uh-huh . . . Oh!  I’m sorry, I was just listening to the people at the table next to us . . .

This was a common occurrence in my young impressionable life.  Mom had a deep interest in people, and how they related to each other.  She often said if she could go back and be anything in the world, she would be an anthropologist.  She loved National Geographic, traveling to ancient places, and museums of any sort.  But it was her love of the sociology she practiced in public.

Here I sit at a local coffee shop doing what I love best — drinking something hot, writing, and people watching (and eaves-dropping).  Did I learn this from Mom?  I’m unsure it matters, but she would laugh to know I do it, and that makes me happy.

Are You Listening? (film)

A group of women, about my age came in and sat down with drinks and various forms of breakfast.  The first woman started talking, and I wondered if the other two would ever get a word in.  She has multiple home improvement projects going, and is very concerned with the real estate value of their renovation.  She talked.  And talked.  And talked.  Then she finally asked for the other twos’ opinions.

Finally an opportunity, but it’s still all about her.  I wondered.  Are they as interested as they look?  Maybe.  If they are faking it, they are doing a pretty good job; sitting forward in their seats, smiling.  The second woman, possibly the younger of the three gave her opinion, and it was back to the first.  I’m not sure I saw the third woman say anything at all while they sat, but she smiled the most.

Sliding their arms in their winter coats, the first asked what the other two had going on this weekend.  The third woman looked at the second woman.  Clearly she was not the extrovert, and was probably happier listening than talking.  When she finally took her turn answering, they were almost out the door.  These are the kinds of things I watch.

An athletic girl came in with her parents and grandparents.  They sat farther away, so I couldn’t hear their conversation.  At first I didn’t think it was her parents because they spoke so formally with her.  But when grandfather settled in his chair, she said loudly enough, “How are you doing, Pops?”  That made me smile.

Sometimes I look at couples and decide if they look like they belong together.  Then I find myself asking what is he doing with her or the other way around.  This leads to me shaming myself for such a shallow comment, even if only in my head.

I am fluent in body language, which is easy to misinterpret.  Novices will read one snapshot and make judgement too quickly.  Crossed legs and arms may signal negativity.  On a closer look, her toe is touching his shin, an intimate gesture of flirtation.

"Jealousy and Flirtation" depicts a ...
“Jealousy and Flirtation”  Even a rookie can interpret the body language being spoken here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I take samples of conversations or body language and make up stories.  Some kid was in with a woman I thought was his mother.  I overheard her saying, “No offense to your father, but . . ”  In my experience I have come to learn that when someone starts a sentence with the words no offense, someone is about to be offended.  I made up a story that he lived with his father, and this was his mother who had gone through a bitter divorce.  They met here to catch up on life and other things.  On the way out, she told him if his parents had any questions, they should call her.  Now I’m wondering if it’s worth coming up with another story or if I should give them up and move on.

Often, as is the case today, my attention is drawn to myself.  Who am I to another people-watcher?  I sit, pea coat over my shoulders, two cups, — one empty, the other hot.  My hair pulled back, still wet from the shower, high in a messy pony-tail.  I check my phone periodically, tapping the screen, smiling or frowning, then set it down again.  I read.  I write.  I smile, then touch a tear away.  I glance periodically at the other tables, groups coming and leaving.  There is a lot of thinking going on, though my posture is relaxed.  I wonder what story I bring to mind . . .

Peace . . .

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Trying to make sense of it all and . . . for the most part . . . doing it.

12 thoughts on “Eaves-Dropping Not Required

  1. I enjoy watching and stitching their expressions and movement into a made up conversation.

    The trouble is when I get swept up in it, then accidentally comment on their brave life choice in being a professional alpaca rider as they pass my table.

  2. Jean, my grandmother was the same way! I always knew what the neighbors had been doing, even if I didn’t want to and in restaurants my only wish each time was that she would keep her opinions quiet until we left. 🙂

    There are so many people-watchers and eave-droppers out there. I was the beneficiary of one such person. I was 4 at the time and had just been diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. My grandparents had gone out to eat and were discussing the prognosis of what a short life I was expected to have when a woman came to their table and apologized for listening in but wanted to help. She raised pure-bred ponies and wanted to give me one telling my grandparents they were fantastic for physical therapy. I had my first and only horse a few days later.

    I used to wonder what people thought of my body language. I tend to sit with my arms crossed because I am frequently cold but in public I do it because I am uncomfortable around groups of people.

    Keep making up your stories. 🙂

    1. I should explain that my mother wasn’t a gossiper, nor would she judge. She just found it so very interesting and, like me, wanted to either know the story or make up her own.

      I know someone who thinks I am negative if I cross my arms, but it has more to do with how I feel about my body that day. If I feel chubby or bloated, I am likely to cross my arms if a table isn’t in front of me.

      It’s a negative message, but not about how I feel about others. So there is so much more to body language!

      1. I would have loved your mother. She sounds like she had a lot of interests and was very intelligent. Guess that’s where you get it from. 😉

  3. The mall is my favorite place to do this, I also learned it from my mom. Unfortunately I have watched too many episodes of Buffy and certain people, I am convinced are really demons. It’s a good thing that I amuse the heck out of myself! 🙂

    1. Good thing! It is a curse too, yes. Sometimes I know I should say something, but I hold back because I’m afraid I might end up clobbering them!

  4. I loved this. I too love to eaves drop and make up stories in my head about people. But I would never say anything to them. I take one day a week and sit in the Barnes & Noble Starbucks drinking tea and watching with my notebook. Others are eaves dropping as well. My daughter met me one day and I mentioned to her that every cop in 4 cities was on my street and it took my 30 minutes to get out. The man sitting at the next table said it was for a memorial service of the cop that had been killed. I appreciated the knowledge and the tin ear.

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