Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Eyes Have It

If you spend some time in Paris, you might start to get the feeling you're being watched. No, it's not because Paris is filled with cameras like London (it's not) or because the gargoyles on Notre Dame magically come to life and follow your every move (they don't, but they kind of look like they could), the answer is a bit simpler than all that. You'll feel like you're being watched because Parisians stare. In the metro, on the streets, at restaurants and cafés; wherever you go, whatever you do, they will be watching.

The reasons for this strange staring behavior remain a mystery. I've spent many a day on the metro simultaneously being stared down and trying to understand why I'm being stared down, but to no avail. I have, however, eliminated the possibility that Parisians stare because you're a tourist. There are plenty of times when I'm out in the city looking very un-touristy (alone, reading a newspaper or book in French, wearing clothes I bought in France, etc.) and I still bust numerous lookers. Not to mention the fact that French people themselves have told me that they feel the stares as well. While I haven't studied this phenomenon thoroughly enough to know all the answers, I have a hunch that it might have something to do with a general suspicion of others that I think exists in France and that I lightly touched on in another post.

Being stared at whenever you step out into society can be a bit disconcerting. It can make you feel self-concious, uncomfortable, or completely and utterly annoyed. What's more, many of the city's starers won't even look away when you meet their glance, but instead commence to look you up and down! What's an unwilling center of attention to do? You could give them a dirty look, ask "je peux vous aider?" (may I help you?), or simply try to ignore it. Or, you could join in the staring ritual, stare back, and enjoy the show. Whatever you choose to do when you feel their stares, just remember: its them, not you.

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