By exposing ourselves to the gritty world of… well, the world, our senses are constantly absorbing information about things we normally don’t think of or consider. When you are a people watcher, you notice more than the general and vague and pick out the small, obvious aspects. These things can be everything from the mundane and ordinary, to the rare and amazing.
Unfortunately life is pretty ordinary most of the time. It involves ordinary things, like pedestrians, traffic noise, pigeons. Oh yes, lots and lots of pigeons. But here in America, as in most cultures, our ordinary lives revolve around one very ordinary, amazing thing: eating. Eating at cafes, eating in restaurants, eating in lounges, eating on the sidewalk, eating with friends, eating by ourselves, eating with utensils, eating with our hands. Socialization depends on eating as its lifeblood, the venue of talk and entertainment. We don’t ask our friends to go out and sit on a nice bench with us, we ask our friends to go out and have lunch together, or a cup of coffee with a nice pastry. This is where our senses are not only absorbing information, but bombarded by it, in nasty, graphic, disgusting ways.
Admit it, no one looks good when they’re eating. There are a rare few people who make the food look delicious while they eat, but the very action of eating is not a pretty sight. There’s a very good reason why you look at your date’s eyes (or other body parts) and not their mouth; it’s like the complete opposite of watching someone going to the restroom but just as stigmatized. Cue example.
I’m out downing a bowl of pho with the family. We don’t talk or look up much while we’re eating, we’re quite preoccupied. But towards the end, when the msg laden broth seeps into our blood vessels and embraces them in warm goopey hugs, and our minds are lulled to sleep in an aptly named food coma, I sit up and start lazily glancing around me. Seeing as how it’s a restaurant, it didn’t surprise me that there were a number of people eating and idly chatting away. Maybe it was the msg, or the hazy restaurant lights, or perhaps it was simply because the mouth was the fastest moving object in the room, but all of a sudden my attention began focusing on the eating habits of the people around me. It was good that I had already finished eating.
Turn to the left. An Asian man is drinking soup like… an Asian man. Shoveling noodles into his mouth as fast as humanly possible while slurping up soup in noisy bliss. Sweat glistens on his brow from the spicy liquid. Head is bowed over bowl with focus and determination.
Turn to the right. A white woman is chewing on a spring roll, overly laden with sauce. Her gaunt face is pinched, her jaws flexing and grinding, her long face slowly fading into that of a billy goat. The bean sprouts bursting out of the spring roll and sticking out of her mouth aren’t doing much to help the image.
Look straight ahead. A young couple with their fluffy pink baby carrier are eating their respective bowls. The man’s lips never close as he bears his teeth for the kill. I’m dimly aware of my own mouth opening in a gasp of both horror and sheer wonder at how the soup is staying in his mouth. The woman’s mouth never opens. She strings noodles in one by one through tight lips, broth and green onion slices spraying around her lips. She dabs at the corner with a napkin every so often. It doesn’t help.
Bodily functions are necessary for life, for growth, for procreation, etc. But like most of the actions entailed in the above functions, eating is a necessary part of life that isn’t necessarily great to watch. People watching is a hobby developed to understand people better and their interactions with their surroundings. It teaches you about others, yourself, and the world, and you learn more every time you try. Some things are just not meant to be fully studied and analyzed though. I think I’ve learned enough for today.