Tis' the season...for people watching!


It’s that time of the year!

No this is not about ‘tis the season to be jolly and take some time for yourself. A very good idea if you don’t…but. No. Tis’ the season for one of my favorite pastimes.

People watching!!

I know I’m not the only one! I know someone who loves watching people trying to fit a big flat screen TV into the back of their very small car. Just thinking about this makes me smile.

This time of the year makes people watching awesome! So many people to watch. So many places to look.



Here’s the scene during one of my recent people watching sessions.

I’m sitting in a comfortable mall chair (yes! some malls have them) with a great view of people.

My eye catches a person texting on their cell while standing in a line to purchase something at a kiosk. Busy texting, she don’t realize the people in front of her are moving closer to the register, leaving a noticeable gap in the line.

A woman walks up and stands in the gap. 

I think, okay, this is going to be interesting. A behavior that causes an inconvenience is always interesting to watch.

I focus my gaze. 

I see people behind the texter peering around those in front of them and looking at the woman. 

I see them pointing at the woman and talking to each other.

Mind you no one was talking before this woman entered the line. I can image them saying - that woman just jumped the line, doesn’t she see this is a line, she needs to get to the back of the line and she needs to wait her turn like everyone else. They are all being inconvenienced by the woman's behavior. 

Finally, someone taps the texter on the shoulder and points to the woman standing in front of her.

This gesture says it all. It says – fix this! 
A person has jumped the line and they did it in front of you – on your watch.

The texter realizes this is not the original person in front of her and kindly lets the woman know that she should go to the back of the line. 

The woman gives a faint smile, apologizes and moves to the end of the line. There. The inconvenient behavior has been corrected. 

All returns back to normal. 

The texter continues texting and the people stop talking to each other. Calm and order is restored. The line is now serving its purpose – preserving first come first serve.



I told this story to a group of friends and someone said – that woman was a Buttarina! Everybody laughed. We all related. We’ve had buttarinas inconvenience us in lines before.

Having experienced a buttarina "butt in line" in front of me, I knew the situation and the feelings very well. I’ve thought, uh-excuse me, what am I invisible, there is a line here, you need to wait your turn like everybody else.


In other words I assumed the moral stance. David Cain from Raptitude in a blog post asks the question, "Do you make a moral issue out of being inconvenienced? Many of us do. It might look like this...

           How rude of this buttarina to jump the line. Have they no manners?!

           Other people in line openly echo the moral stance by also motioning for the butturina to wait their turn.

          Can't this butturina see that this is a line?



After order was returned in the line at the mall, I thought – maybe the woman didn’t see the line.

Not literally cannot see! 

But maybe she couldn’t see lining up. If the concepts of lining up, first come first serve, is not known can lining up be recognized? Thus the line becomes invisible and only makes sense if the concept first come first served is known or familiar. 

If the woman was unfamiliar with first come first serve then the line becomes useless and senseless to her.

Many places around the planet do not stand in lines. Yet people receive services in an orderly manner.


Think about this for a moment, what do you do to show that you understand first come first served? What behaviors do you exhibit that speak first come first served language?

Here are my behaviors and I bet yours are pretty similar:

  • I look to see if there is a line
  • I look for a sign that says, Line forms here
  • I ask someone standing near me, "Is this the line?"
  • I ask the last person in line if they are the last person in line
  • When I need to leave the line I ask the person standing behind me to hold “my” place in line
  • When I return to the line I thank them for holding my place so others know I am not jumping in line (I don’t want to be a butturina!)
  • When I see someone already in line that I know I may talk momentarily then say, "I’m going to the back of the line now."
  • I know what the phrases jumping in line or buttarina mean

I did not realize why I do what I do during my recent mall people watching session.

However I was fully aware of the commonly accepted behaviors and I knew the buttarina was not showing those behaviors.

We often mistakenly assume that people are rude or uneducated if they don’t exhibit the “appropriate” behavior.

We jump to the moral stance when we are inconvenienced by the behaviors of others. Thinking things like, they should know better or it’s so obvious, do what everyone else is doing.



So where’s my challenge for you. The next time you feel inconvenienced by the behaviors of others ask yourself:

1. What do I expect in this situation?

2. Why do I expect this behavior?

3. How does it make me feel when I get what I expected?

4. When I get what I expect what does that mean?


A word of caution when answering these questions: stay away from “I feel respected.” Respect can be a loaded word it has a powerful emotion attached to it yet an ambiguous meaning. Many of us use the word respect however we may mean different things and expect different behaviors.


It is my belief that when we step back from the behavior that is causing the inconvenience and take a look at our expectations it just might change our perception.


Just the other day I watched with a smile on my face (instead of taking the moral stance) as the woman standing in line in front of me reacted to a gentleman buttarina in front of her. I could see it in her body language, “Hey buddy don’t you see this is a line! Wait your turn!”


Yes, tis’ the season…to change your perception.


So share and do tell of the behaviors that inconvenience you! I'ld love to hear from you.