It's not uncommon for people to just sit and watch whatever is going on around them. I've occasionally heard this as "people-watching", which is similar, but often times people will just sit and watch the nature around them, or the cars drive by, etc. Ideally, the word also implies that the activity is for relaxation and/or for fun. I'm not "car watching" to try and find a particular car.

The closest words I've found are "gazing" or "monitoring". Gazing is pretty close, especially when used in something like "stargazing", but at least around here, I've never heard somebody say "I'm going to go gaze". Monitoring is similar in it's physical actions, but implies a purpose: You're monitoring for something.

A verb is preferred, but a noun/short phrase for the activity itself would be acceptable as well.

  • The phase structure John was sitting watching avoids the coordinator, and more tightly emphasises the unified 'activity'. Compare 'go fishing/dancing/carol singing//sit knitting//stand watching'. Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 10:59

2 Answers 2


I’m not sure that there is one word that will fit all occasions/locations. To me, what you’ve described is something like someone “shooting the breeze” but with their eyes and thoughts. In other words watching the world go by :-D

to relax outside by just looking at the people around you

One would perhaps contemplate nature

contemplate: 1. to look at or view with continued attention; observe or study thoughtfully -to contemplate the stars

and survey the traffic?

to view or consider comprehensively

the person would maybe be observing life around them, overall.

to watch something or someone carefully: She spent her career observing animal behavior. -On their field trip, the students observed how a newspaper was put together.

I was curious to find out if there is a single word for the idiomatic expression "watching the world go by" and decided to search EL&U. I came across flâneur, via @Matt's answer to the question What’s a word for someone who appreciates the little things?, serendipitously!

a person who walks through public spaces, watching and appreciating the world going by

defined by Cambridge dictionary as

someone who walks around not doing anything in particular but watching people and society:

  • She wanders around with her camera, a flâneur with a keen eye.
  • Lisbon is a city built for the ultra-relaxed, aimless flaneur.

This French loanword is new to me and I assume it's likely not widely known by others either (1,360 Google search results). I think it has a nice ring to it. Despite not involving idly sitting, it appears to be something people should take on to relieve the stress of modern living. What is flaneuring? The walking trend that will leave you relaxed and inspired

'I needed more quiet in my life. The French art of flaneuring showed me the way.'

  • 1
    "Watching the world go by" is definitely what I'm looking for. I wish it was a singular word, but it's a common enough phrase and emphasizes the right things. Thanks Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 4:09

You could call this staring (off) into space, defined by TfD as:

To stare vacantly or absentmindedly at nothing in particular, usually while one is preoccupied with or distracted by thoughts of something else.

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