I spend a lot of time watching people. A lot of my free time, I should add. I really ought to spend more of my paid time watching people and talking less – in fact, it’s a Continuing Professional Development target of mine.
It is a usual habit within cafés (I like to sit facing out of the shop most preferably, else within the shop watching the bar) or on the uppermost tier of buses. Considering my natural paranoia, and just how often I watch others, it’s amazing that I’ve yet to develop a crippling fear of being seen; perhaps its equated by my enjoyment of performance – the underlying reason I remain a teacher.
Today’s musings are not about people-watching though, but rather on the appropriate etiquette of mutual watching.
Earlier, I stood at the bus stop* and a bus I was not getting pulled up. As it did this, I noticed that sat beside the door, and but a short distance from where I stood, was one of my colleagues. Now, we’re not excessively close, but we do talk when we encounter each other at school (rather than just the polite swapping of salutations that happens far too often) and I do have his number in my phone.**
It was at this point that I started a panicked introspection: I was not to know how long the bus would stand at its stop, or whether my colleague would spot me in that time. To attract his attention would be pointless: despite his proximity to the door, the glass betwixt us would prevent conversation unless I were to phone him.** Yet to look pointedly away would be a self-concious act, perhaps more obvious proof of my having noticed him. What’s more, had he spotted me? I spotted him when the bus had stopped, perhaps he had seen me while the bus drew up. What if he was similarly introspecting? Would he know that I knew that he was there and expect at least eye contact and a cordial, if silent, communique? And after the first silent salutation, how would the nonversation continue? Would we be expected to continue not talking but showing that we recognised that the other person was there? Would the first contact be enough? Would we have to not say goodbye?
In my panic, I caught his eye. My eyebrows shot up, the momentum of which tipping my head back, almost imperceptibly; he nodded, lips tautened to the glum sub-smile of the Scottish national.
* This is also something I do often, although the stop itself varies, but that is the wonder of the ambiguity of the definite article.
** Clearly, I wasn’t going to call him then. That would be silly.