Have you ever thought about how other people live their lives? Maybe you have wondered about how life would be like as a millionaire or a famous rock star, but did you ever think about the lives of your friends and family? You might know where they work and what they do for fun. But what do you know about the details? The way they move around the house, their little habits, how they interact with their partner or how they raise their children? These little facts are seldom talked about or observed by other, but can be quite interesting and at the very least fun to watch!
It’s the little things
When I am out of town I like to stay at a friend’s house, usually this is for just a day or so but sometimes longer. I firmly believe that guests are like fish, after 3 days they begin to stink so I never try to overstay my welcome and put too much stress on my hosts. But always when I stay with friends I am struck by the little observations I make about their daily lives. Sometimes I just sit in a quite corner of the house and keep quite while my hosts are going about. It’s the differences in the little things that make these observations fun. Some of the things I am interested in is food and cooking, so I always make sure to pay special attention when it’s time for dinner; what time do they eat? do they cook? do they use fresh ingredients? how do they cook? do they use special techniques? are they stressed about cooking? do they like it? I always try to ask some questions about their favourite dishes and I also offer to help. After cooking the food has to be eaten. But where is this done? Will we be eating in front of the tv or are we putting out the plates? All these things can be different and while it is already fun to notice these differences, it can also be very interesting to discover why your hosts do the things they do, so be sure to ask lots of questions (but don’t make them uncomfortable in doing so)!
Interactions in the family
Another thing I like to observe is how my hosts interact with each other. When it is just me and a friend, there is nothing to observe. But if there is a partner, some children or even a dog or cat, things start to become interesting. I love to observe that small moment when a love partner comes home and how they are greeted. Do they get a kiss? Is there any inquiry about how their day went? Any other signs of affection and interest? Or maybe they just get a short “hi” and are ignored afterwards.
With children this goes even further, because your hosts will be responsible for them. So how do they react on questions from the child? What happens when it is time to eat or sleep? How do the parents react when the child misbehaves?
Of course, you are there as an observer and your hosts will know that and adapt there behaviour a bit to meet certain social standards. But if you watch closely, you can see the underlying patterns.
When you start to observe people you can imagine yourself to be a palaeontologist researching a newly discovered society. You can learn a lot when doing this when you are open to it. By realising everyone is different and does things differently you become more open to it. It becomes easier to accept differences and you might even start to realise that the way you do things is not the only way and might even not be the best way. So always try to reflect upon how you would react in a similar situation you are observing. Do you like the way your hosts react, or do you believe you would do it differently? Either way, make a mental note of it. You get bonus points of you also decide on why you like it or not.
Not only are you observing a different culture, you are also observing people. This is the field of the psychologist. Try to discover why people do or react the things they do and what those interactions do with their mood. For example, I love to see when my friends girlfriend get’s home from work, he takes the time to give her a kiss and a hug and asks her how her day went. I could immediately see the change on her face, when she came in she was cold and stressed out. But after the hug and the attention she was much more at ease. Funny how that works and a great tip to also implement in my life.
Picture above: My living room, where anyone is free to visit and observe me.