Thursday, January 28, 2016


People-watching is a habit I picked up from my mom. There are so many fascinating people to observe when you're out and about. Oxford, with it's strong international draw and many public areas where people converse, is a perfect place to sit back and enjoy the glimpses of individual lives available to anyone who pays attention. Here are snippets of the things I have observed since being here.

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In a restaurant today, I was seated next to two women visiting over lunch. One was probably in her early 50s, the other in her late 20s. The bits and pieces I caught of their conversation intrigued me. Unfortunately I couldn’t catch enough to get the gist of what they were talking about. This was not due to the usual downfall of experienced eavesdroppers (background noise), but rather to the fact that these women slipped seamlessly between British English and another language in their discussion, starting sentences in one language that finished in another. It was fascinating. I was disappointed not to be able to place the language. It was definitely a Romance language, but just as definitely not French, and I don’t think it was Spanish. Italian, maybe? But even that doesn’t seem to quite fit. I suppose it shall always be a mystery.

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Now I’m sitting in CafĂ© Nero on the first floor of Blackwell’s bookstore. Blackwell's is the iconic Oxford bookstore, and at Cafe Nero you can buy a pot of tea for two pounds and eek three cups out of it (granted, the third cup is pretty milky). I’m supposed to be studying but am instead distracting myself by people watching. At a table for two conveniently within my range of vision is a bald, portly, short gentleman in a suit who reminds me strongly of Hercule Poirot. He even has a moustache, though it is grey and well trimmed, in contrast to the handlebar moustache which is the pride of Poirot’s existence. And the wedding-ring belies my pleasing fiction that I am sitting three paces from a modern-day bachelor who has dedicated his life to solving mysteries. Modern Poirot is sipping his coffee and studying his computer intently, with a briefcase at his feet.

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A piece of conversation overheard between two female students:

"I'm twenty-two now. That gives me a year to get married, and two before I'm have a baby and an apartment . . . Sorry, too much sharing."

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And, my favorite, a snippet of a phone call overheard on the bus. The speaker was a man in his early 30s with a grocery bag full of raw chicken at his feet. His nametag indicated that he is one of the many tour guides who make their living in Oxford. Though this has nothing to do with tour groups:

"Would you . . . would you think less of me if I covered the kitchen with sacks and bought a bunch of live crabs?"

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