A Travellerspoint blog

Staring

sunny

Written 7/4 -- they'll be another in the next few days about travel and rap music

I wasn’t planning on keeping a blog in Berlin. My journal entries haven’t had big ideas to hold them together in a while, and without a Title, I struggle to justify writing a blog post. My silence is over. The seal is broken. I’m gonna write about staring. I’m also going to make an effort to write even on days when my thoughts/experiences are jumbled, and hopefully share some of those with you.
So here’s the sitch. I’m a starer. I’m horribly self conscious, but at this point I’ve had someone out of nowhere say “yes?” or “what?” enough times that I have come to accept I have little control over my eyes. I have a problem and no matter how hard I try, my instinct’s going to be to scan those near me and stare at some of them. I’ve been in Berlin only two days, and normally I would hesitate to make generalizations at this juncture, but people in Berlin stare. I know this because when watchers like myself meet other watchers there’s usually a lot of awkward eye contact. The eye contact has definitely been happening a good amount (and lasting unnervingly long), but it has the flavor of unabashed interest. When I realized I didn’t feel uncomfortable the majority of times I’ve caught people, even men, staring here, I realized there must be something different about or behind the stare. Generally I’ve found staring either predatory or an awful lot like gawking when I’ve experienced it in the past.
While living in Kenya I had to train myself not to stare, because making any prolonged eye-contact with the men who stared at me almost always meant being approached. In addition, stares would sometimes be accompanied by greetings but other times remarks thrown at me, only sometimes did I feel it was an invitation to friendly conversation. I want to make it clear that this was only an aspect of my experience, I believe that Kenya has the kindest citizens I have ever met. However, staring was quintessentially different in Kenya, just as it is different in Boston and at Dartmouth.
First of all, lots of people at Dartmouth won’t stare; I would say Dartmouth is a fairly socially conscious population and generally won’t act abnormal…unless it’s abnormality that is normal at Dartmouth. Face time, or the act of going out in public campus spaces in order to see and be seen, is an influential aspect of Dartmouth staring culture. I feel when I’m being stared at on campus often the person is trying to figure out if they know or want to know me. I think what throws me off is that people usually look away when I look back, rather than meeting my eyes or smiling, which makes me feel there is negativity behind the look. In other places I’ve lived in besides Berlin people have definitely not looked at me nearly as much as they do at Dartmouth. However, when I do catch eyes with people in other places I’ve lived, they usually look away in the same manner as people at Dartmouth.
Now coming back to my first day of writing (the first half of this essay) and being self critical I believe there is an age and perhaps racial component to the difference between my experiences being conscious of being watched. Berlin is a young city, (average age), so perhaps I am being looked at in sexual interest in Berlin, but the interest is welcome because I want the attention of 20-30 year olds. Same goes for Dartmouth. In Kenya the men hitting on me were often in their late 30s and 40s. The racial component is not a simple racism issue; I decided I wasn’t interested in sexual advances from Kenyan men whatsoever before I got there, partially because people in my life told me I should. It’s undeniable that this advice and my perception of Kenyan men is part of the reason I felt so uncomfortable with stares in Kenya. Just as being watched by a male, particularly a white male, in a frat basement makes me uncomfortable; I have a bias against this population, one that I also must check.
I like that people in Berlin keep staring after they look at me. It isn’t aggressive, they usually aren’t going to walk up to me, but they won’t deny themselves the pleasure of studying me. Maybe I’m projecting, but as of yet I haven’t experienced any of the usual signs that there’s negativity behind the stares here. Instead, stares have led to my initiating or being invited to a couple good conversations.

Posted by BekahBP 14:41 Archived in Germany Tagged berlin watching staring

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