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Harriet the Spy: Tales of a Full-blown Eavesdropping Queen.

Updated on June 18, 2012
The cast of "Friends" eavesdropping.
The cast of "Friends" eavesdropping.

When I was younger, my older brother would call me Harriet the Spy, named after the 1996 kids movie. Harriet was an aspiring writer. As a kid, I don’t remember wanting to write nearly as much as I wanted to spy on my neighbors. I would watch them get out of their cars after work, and l’d watch the neighborhood kids play street hockey. I did a lot of this all from my little perch in our tree house in the front yard.

I’m a Big Eavesdropper.

I listen in to peoples conversations while working and doing routine tasks or while eating on my lunch break. I hear people’s thoughts and feelings being expressed to one another loudly and sometimes softly…

I think I have good ears. I don’t always let it be known that I can hear them. In fact, I may just do the opposite. I continue doing whatever I do; eat, read, paint my nails, and act like this is all I’m focusing on. But I do hear you. And I may be laughing inside at you. Or I may be sympathizing with you. And I may have a million questions that I’m asking myself about what I’m hearing.

But this can be a tricky situation. It’s rude to eavesdrop and then butt into a conversation uninvited. But just plain old simple eavesdropping is perfectly decent, right? My rationale is that there is no harm done as long as my mouth is not running and my brain may be the only one jumping to conclusions.

Enjoying each others conversation while people-watching too.
Enjoying each others conversation while people-watching too.
A classic eavesdropping encounter.
A classic eavesdropping encounter.

Tools to Master the Art of Eavesdropping

The Lovely French and Their Talented Eyes.

I once heard that the French are people watchers. I picture them in cute little French bistros having cheese and wine and observing. They spend extraordinary amounts of time at the window table over deliciously scrumptious meals - simply taking in the scenes and noticing small things like the lady in the red hat that was missing a glove. Or the gentleman throwing coins into the fountain. Each unique person has a story and the French are great observers. Or so, I’ve been told.

Piecing Together the Eavesdropping Tidbits.

I sometimes hear the tiniest pieces of information, via eavesdropping of course, and I’m kind of left hanging, waiting patiently for the person or persons to divulge a little bit more info to confirm any possible theories. When they neglect to do so, natural instincts fill in the blanks. If I hear someone ask when is the baby due- I do a quick mental roll call of anyone expecting, but when something isn’t fitting then further investigative eavesdropping is necessary.

My ears perk up a little higher. My mouth drops open just a small bit. It reminds me a little of the board game Clue and that we are simply looking for the candlestick in the Ballroom by none other than Miss Scarlet.

Eavesdropping Etiquette.

What you don’t do if you can’t get the whole gist of a story is butt in and ask for clarification. If you are good eavesdropper you will be able to piece the story together by the info that you already have and/or you would drop it all together and eavesdrop on someone else.

Eavesdropping is An Art.

Eavesdropping is an art if done appropriately and legitimately.

It occupies my time wonderfully. It makes dull work days more fascinating by letting me in on other peoples interesting or relatively sad lives. If someone is talking about something private, loud enough for you to hear, then they have sure put their foot in their mouth! They are probably now regretting their loud and blatant storytelling moment, but whose fault is that?

This is where I come in, but not literally.

Here is my advice:

  • If it’s a good story, comedic and light- run with it and use it as you like.
  • If it’s a personal story and includes intimate (scandalous) or upsetting details- lock it up in your memory and leave it there. It's not your business to be sharing someone else's tragedies, but, yes, scandalous stories sure are fun to go running with...
  • A distraught or upsetting story, although not to be repeated once you have heard it, should be graciously recognized. Your internal beliefs and considerations may be effected, for the better, as you have heard something that touched you and may’ve made you more accepting, considerate and benign.

I like eavesdropping on oddities. Not necessary negatives, just strange ones that make you go, huh?

Eavesdropping 101

Primary Reason to Eavesdrop?

See results

Eavesdropping about Me.

On a rare occasion, while eavesdropping, I’ll hear my name come up. It’s always fun to eavesdrop on yourself, especially when praise and recognition are being whispered behind your back. Obviously direct compliments are superior but there is something special about the compliment you never received. It’s like you know you are good and there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it!

My Recommendations on Eavesdropping.

All in all-eavesdropping takes work. It takes time and patience to develop a good story and interpret the way it was intended. It takes much watching but more listening and a whole ton of piecing together of those little tidbits of information. Continue the task your working on when eavesdropping and don’t make it blatant that you are in-fact eavesdropping, and don’t pass up great information, newsworthy quotes or even some nice ideas for the sunny weekend ahead. THE OPTIONS ARE ENDLESS. Happy Eavesdropping.


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    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 5 years ago

      Hi JamaGenee- thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I believe it, knitting seems like the perfect disguise when eavesdropping :-) I knit a little, not well, and I may have to check out the Agatha Christie books. People watching is a lot of fun - it's crazy the things you see people do and say! Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Being an Eavesdropper Extraordinaire was how Agatha Christie's Miss Marple solved many crimes. As soon as she pulled her knitting needles out of the bag, you could almost see the antennae pop out and begin picking up to everything being said in a room! Servants in British manor houses were also experts at it.

      I've never found any in the family tree, but have always suspected I have French blood, even more so now after reading here that the French national pastime is people watching!

      Voted up and funny! ;D

    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 6 years ago

      Hi prairieprincess- It is fun to eavesdrop, you learn so much :) I think now I've become a bit more blunt and ask more questions, and get a little more involved in the whole eavesdropping scenario. I think I did an assignment, too, quite similar to yours. In a college class, I had to go observe consumers at the supermarket and take note of their buying choices. It was a little creepy but a helpful exercise. I imagine that would be very helpful when taking on an acting role. Thanks so much for stopping by and reading!

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 6 years ago from Canada

      Emily, I enjoyed this very much. My parents used to say the same thing about me when I was a kid: always listening quietly to the grownups, trying to get the latest scoop. And I agree with you that eavesdropping is an art, and you can hear such interesting things!

      For one of my drama assignments, I had my students go to a cafe and secretly observe someone in the shop and then describe them, so that they really get into a character. This is part of the acting procedure: to observe people, so that you can try to become them.

      Very interesting hub. Loved it!

    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 6 years ago

      Hi Ebower!! I think one of the few ways to survive working in retail is by eavesdropping :) It can be oh so amusing...really makes the time fly :-) Thank you for stopping by!!

    • Ebower profile image

      Erin Bower 6 years ago from Georgia

      I admit that I'm an eavesdropper myself. When I worked in retail, I would amuse myself by listening to the conversations around me while I was working. I voted this up and interesting. :)

    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 6 years ago

      You got it! I definitely get some story ideas when eavesdropping, lol. Thanks for the comment!

    • WannaB Writer profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 6 years ago from Templeton, CA

      I much enjoyed reading Harriet the Spy, and I enjoyed reading this hub. Do your eavesdropping adventures give you interesting story ideas?

    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 7 years ago

      Haha that is awesome! Thank you so much Denise for commenting and reading my hub.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Fantastic article and well written. LOL OMG I loved the book when I was younger and had all the detective gear. It was when I was in fourth grade and my g.f. and I stormed the neighborhood spying on everyone and making up stories about them.

    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 7 years ago

      Haha I know it is hard to not want to butt in! Lol. Thanks so much for the comment and reading my hub!

    • shellyakins profile image

      shellyakins 7 years ago from Illinois

      Glad I'm not the only one who does this :) But I'm a butter-iner. I just have to know. I've stuck my foot in my mouth many a time because of this.

    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 7 years ago

      Thank you DIYweddingplanner! I loved your bio about Harriet - I guess I wasn't the only one who grew up with her as my idol!

    • DIYweddingplanner profile image

      DIYweddingplanner 7 years ago from South Carolina, USA

      Awesome, I'm a fan of you... and Harriet!

    • profile image

      Doug Woodward 7 years ago

      Another great article, very informative and interesting!

    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 7 years ago

      Thanks a lot for stopping by and reading my hub. I'll be sure to check out your hubs too.

    • darknezz111 profile image

      Daniel Durand 7 years ago from Southern Idaho

      Really great article. Well written, and the topic was great. I'm following you.