People watching is great in any city, but it is especially rewarding in Paris. Maybe it’s the spectacular backdrop — the Haussmann buildings and pavé streets — or perhaps it’s the density of the population — there are so many people living within “the snail” that the parade never ends.
In Paris, you never run out of faces to look at, or places at which to look at them. The parks, with their pea-gravel allées and strategically placed iron chairs and benches, are designed for seeing and being seen. So are the cafés, where wicker chairs are set side by side to give everyone a fair view.
Of course, many say Paris is the best city for people watching because the French are so chic, and blessed with good genes to boot. Though there may be some truth to this (see La Vue d'Ici for examples), the city does not have a lock on fashion or beauty — you have only to visit Milan, Tokyo, or New York to see that.
No, I believe it is the atmosphere of the city itself –- its beauty, its density, its design so perfect for strolling and observing -- that makes it prime face-hunting ground. That and the fact that it’s okay to regarder in Paris. People examine one another on the métro, in shops, and in parks with little of that American “What are you lookin’ at?” aggression.
But it does takes a bit of getting used to, being examined. Even if you’re French. A Paris native who now lives in San Francisco remarked to me during her last visit home, “I can’t stand all of these people staring at me! What’s their problem?” She had forgotten that here, looking and being looked at is sort of a city sport.
The three-year-old daughter of some American friends gets it, though. When I asked her what she liked most about living in Paris she replied, “I like to look at the people.”