I've often found myself admiring someone's tattoo simply for its intricate patterns and neat colors or observing someone's shirt that might have a logo or emblem of a popular video game that they might like.

Usually I'm at a distance and not able to really talk to them. Normally, if I were in a conversation and noticed this, I'd be like "Hey! Wow! I like your tattoo/shirt!" But in these types of situations, I don't have the opportunity to let them know what's going on verbally.

When I am observing, I don't want them to do anything like...

  1. Get the impression I'm interested in them physically. I don't want to have them crawl over and start flirting trying to get me to go out with them.
  2. Become nervous since I might be looking at them for more than a few seconds. Some patterns, words, and designs take time to look at depending on their complexity.
  3. Negative confrontation. I don't want them to become defensive and scream "stop looking at me!" or anything to that effect.

I have ADHD and my mind especially tends to focus on random details like this when I'm bored or nervous. This is something I frequently do and don't see myself altering anytime soon. The ultimate goal here is to make this behavior as socially acceptable and comfortable for everyone as possible.

Question: How can I compose myself properly when observing such details and non-verbally communicate that I'm just curious in what they're displaying?

1 Answer 1


When I'm in the subway, I like to look at people and their clothes (because there is literally nothing else to look at). Here are some of the things I have noticed and that I try to do in order to not make other people uncomfortable.

  1. People don't care/won't notice if you look at their feet, pant bottom, back and/or bag. So, if you want to observe one of those things, you usually don't have to fear anything.

  2. People don't like when they feel like you are listening to their private conversation. I did that once, looking at someone (I don't remember where exactly my eyes were looking at the time, but I was definitively focused on them) and the other person took it really badly.

    So, if you want to look at someone while they are talking, I would suggest that you don't or be really careful since that might be badly taken.

  3. Looking at children and smiling at them and their parents is more socially accepted than just smiling at random strangers in the bus (at least in France).

    However, doing this for too long without engaging the conversation might still make the parents uncomfortable. When you look at someone, people usually assume you want to talk to them and, if you don't, they might start become agitated and, sometime, they will break their discomfort by asking something like "May I help you?" (it happen to me when I was fixing at someone and didn't realize I was doing that until they talked to me).

  4. People are uncomfortable when you look at their face. In order to still do so, I use the "quick look, go away" technique. This technique consists of: taking a brief look, looking somewhere else, taking another brief look, looking somewhere else, etc..

    It's not really practical but it's the best solution I find in order to avoid the "angry look" that people might give you if you are starting their face. However, some people might still notice (and thus make eye-contact) and I would suggest stopping looking at them if they do (after awkwardly smiling at them).

  5. When looking at a woman, even if you are a woman yourself, looking at their low-necked clothing might make them uncomfortable. So, if you still want to do so, I would suggest using the technique I described in point 4.

  6. For looking at the "T-shirt area", I don't have any clear rule here. If people don't notice your staring, you can look all you want. However, if they do notice, I would suggest politely smiling at them and then find something/someone else to look at.

Global note: when looking at someone, if you accidentally make eye-contact, smiling at the other person often reduces the discomfort that the other person might feel. However, after that, it's important to break the eye-contact and look somewhere else for some time (one day, someone didn't break the eye-contact and it was very uncomfortable for me).

Please, let me know if more back-up are needed.

  • 2
    Nice advice on the whole, but in my experience number 4 is problematic (especially in the context of number 5). Gender might be a factor (I am a man), but frequent glances can seem furtive and may be received as poorly as outright staring. Social conventions (at least in the U.S.) don't make much allowance for curiosity. If you want to take some time to read text splashed across the chest of a woman's shirt, you're going to risk giving the wrong impression no matter what.
    – Upper_Case
    May 9, 2019 at 19:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.