In English "people-watching" is a pretty common phrase; nearly everyone knows it. It refers to a common hobby of sitting somewhere in public, possibly while doing something else, and just enjoying watching what other people are doing, like in a park or cafe.

I was speaking with a French girl yesterday and she didn't really understand this phrase and said there was no real French equivalent. I found this extremely hard to believe.

Is it true that there's no distinct and well-known word or phrase to describe this activity in French?


Badaud (qui pratique la badauderie), curieux (plutôt d'une curiosité passive), flâneur, gobe-mouche (ce dernier est un peu vieilli) sont des personnes qui s'attardent à regarder le spectacle de la rue, selon Le Robert.

  • flâner est le verbe qui correspond le mieux à ce genre d'activité.
  • badauder est un néologisme familier à ne pas employer à l'écrit.


Comme Romain le suggère :

  • baguenauder, se baguenauder est un synonyme de flâner.

Et aussi, avec un regard plus intéressé, plus insistant :

Il reluque les filles !

  • reluquer : regarder du coin de l’œil avec convoitise,
  • lorgner : regarder observer de façon particulière (de côté, avec instance, avec un instrument),
  • mater : regarder sans être vu,
  • zieuter : jeter un coup d’œil pour observer.

guigner : "considérer (une chose) avec convoitise" indique que l'on regarde, que l'on observe longuement l'objet ou la personne désirée en attendant la période propice pour l'obtenir.

  • 1
    badauder n'existe peut-être pas, mais on a baguenauder, voire musarder. Apr 27 '15 at 14:37
  • @RomainVALERI - OK pour Baguenauder qui est synonyme, mais le musard musarde "en perdant son temps à des riens". En revanche qui reluque : le reluqueur ? le voyeur ? ...et aussi qui baguenaude ??
    – Personne
    Apr 27 '15 at 17:09
  • (Mais quand même il me semble que mater a remplacé reluquer depuis quelques décennies.) Apr 27 '15 at 19:54
  • +1 for « flâner » Apr 28 '15 at 5:03

Like explained elsewhere, the idea of the stroll, roaming, dilly-dally up to the case of the mesmerized bystander and such i.e. flâner and others are useful. At the same time, it's more focused on the behavior of the watcher as opposed to what they are doing, which is really what we have here: "watching people, to watch people" but coined as an activity, not unlike bird-watching (uses Greek-based ornithologie in French), whale watching etc.. The verbs regarder, observer and étudier will work with gens, autres, homme, femme, nature, réalité, vie, amongst others.

"Observer" often has this idea of some control over the situation; when a person is "placed under surveillance" at the hospital i.e. is being monitored, the person is "en observation" (mind the "observation des êtres vivants", generally medical in a similar fashion; and "observance" related ideas.). But the verb and the word allow for using your senses such as eyesight and observing directly and empirically, paying attention to what you look at, as opposed to the "experimentation" setup/abstractions. "Regarder" allows for many variations with the manner and intensity of the looking, including regarder "d'un oeil distrait, du coin de l'oeil, au loin, de près, en dessous". And "étudier" some such things as the "manière d'être ou d'agir de quelqu'un" is possible in context; but using "human beings/people" without context and this verb eventually leads to the definitions of fields such as "anthropologie, sociologie, psychologie" etc. See also surveiller, guetter, épier, all more secretive and often implying further motivations, so less applicable here.

— Quelle est ton activité préférée ?
— Regarder les gens; observer les gens/l'être ou les êtres humain(s). Je m'en vais flâner au parc où j'aime bien aller m'asseoir sur un banc avec mon journal et regarder/observer les gens/les passants; c'est ce en quoi consiste le « people-watching ». J'aime prendre le temps d'observer ce que croise mon regard et ce qui m'entoure, avoir l’œil qui regarde bien.

In so many words something close to the literal translation, using the infinitive instead of the continuous, works; add "j'aime/je vais" before, and a complement of location after, to restrict the scope to some activity and place so as to provide context.

  • 1
    It's probably just one amongst the others you referred to, but I like the notion of "... le monde passer" when used with the three verbs you propose, especially "regarder" and "observer."
    – Papa Poule
    Apr 27 '15 at 17:26
  • 1
    @PapaPoule Thanks! I had thought of "voir du monde" but didn't feel like explaining the difference with the imprecise meetup and monde vs. gens; I had not directly thought of "regarder le monde passer". It is both idiomatic and answer-worthy imho; appears right at the top of "passer". It is completely casual with powerful romantic undertones (close to "...le monde tourner" or as in "pass away", towards "trépasser", as it appears in the Cyrano monologue I hint about). I'd support this.
    – user3177
    Apr 27 '15 at 23:19

Voyeurisme (voyeur) is one form of people (crowd) watching.

See also this definitions in Le Petit Robert (2009): Voyeur, euse [vwajœʀ, øz] nom étym. début xviiie; ancien français veor « guetteur » ◊ de voir Famille étymologique ð voir. ❖ 1. (Vieilli) Spectateur attiré par une curiosité plus ou moins malsaine. « Les accusés tenaient leurs figures flétries constamment tournées vers leurs collègues venus en voyeurs » (Barrès). 2. (1883) Personne qui cherche à assister pour sa satisfaction et sans être vue à une scène intime ou érotique. ➙ arg. mateur.

  • 3
    In modern French, voyeur has a sexual connotation by default. It is not an appropriate translation for “people-watching”. May 2 '15 at 12:23
  • This is actually one of those pretty hilarious mistranslations. Jun 11 '15 at 18:29

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