Megan Donahue, 25, lives in La Jolla. Two years in San Diego, from Santa Barbara.
"If a guy's checking me out, I usually won't look back at him. I mean, it depends. Is he staring? If he's staring, I might look over at him a few times. But it depends on who I'm with, it depends on who he is, what he looks like, whether or not I'm attracted to him, whether or not he seems creepy. Mostly, I guess it depends on how safe I feel in the situation. Because if you make eye contact with somebody, it's like sending them a signal, like you're interested in talking with them.
"In Europe, if you make eye contact with somebody, or if you smile as you pass them on the street, they think you're crazy. Normally when I'm out for a run or something, if I pass somebody, I'll try to make eye contact and maybe smile or just be, like, 'Hi, how's it going,' you know, just something casual. But in Europe, they respond very differently than they do here. And I noticed that mostly in the big cities, like Prague and Bernau.
"But people in San Diego are friendlier, I think. They'll say, 'Good morning,' or 'How's it going.' I think people here return eye contact, in general.
"I lived in New York for a while, and my impression was that people there are far less likely to look you in the eye or be friendly. And I think a lot of it is, in small towns or small communities with more of a communal feel, people are more likely to be friendly to strangers, and make eye contact, and strike up a conversation with someone they don't know. Whereas in New York people are very focused on what they have to do. Because you pass so many people every day, you kind of have to make your own way through everything. So they're very focused on what they're doing and less likely to take a moment and talk to someone. So I think there's more of a correlation between eye contact in large cities versus small towns than there is with East Coast versus West Coast."
Regan Lau, 26, lives in Pacific Beach. Two years in San Diego, from Long Island, New York.
"I'd probably glance back at a guy who's looking at me, kind of to let him know that I know that he's looking at me, and then I probably wouldn't think about it again. If we make eye contact, I'd probably have more of a curious look on my face, and I'd try to see if he looked angry or happy, or cute, I guess. But it depends on my situation. For example, right now I'm in this café to just eat a salad and go. I'm not looking to meet anyone. In a bar, it's different. It's more of a social setting. I'm out there to talk to people and meet people. I might even initiate eye contact in that situation.
"But I feel like I always look at people and give them a smile. I feel like sometimes in grocery stores, or wherever, I'm just constantly looking at everybody who passes by and I'm doing the smile. And sometimes I laugh at myself after every single time I do it, because I'm just constantly doing it. Smiling and glancing. And I think most of the time people are receptive to it. Mostly older people are more receptive, I guess. Usually younger women are the least receptive. Maybe they're just more self-conscious, thinking I'm looking at them for a different reason than I am.
"But I guess I can be less receptive in certain situations, too. If someone's face doesn't have an expression, and they're just looking at me as we're walking by, and they're not smiling or looking overly welcoming, then I can be, like, 'What was that?' Because it's more up for interpretation."
Sara Nguyen, 29, lives in Pacific Beach, and grew up in San Diego.
"If someone's looking at me, then before I look back at them -- before I look them in the eye -- I try to get a sense of what the look is like. If they're leering, then I'm not going to talk to that person. But if they have a nice demeanor, a nice energy about them, then maybe they're just interested in your culture, or your necklace, or what you're wearing. I travel a lot, so I'll be wearing things that are different, so I can see why people are looking sometimes. But I don't automatically think, 'Oh, they want to sleep with me.'
"I usually return eye contact to let the person know that I know they're looking. I don't want to be a bitch about it.
"But I've noticed that a lot of girls in this area, in Pacific Beach, don't return eye contact. I think it's because of the culture of PB. The people that live here are younger -- more college students -- and a lot of the time younger girls don't want to be hit on. When, in reality, sometimes, people just want to be friendly. They want to talk to you and have a conversation. So it really depends, I think, on where a girl is in her life stage, whether she wants to interact with someone who's looking at her. I'm seeing a lot more families in PB, but the scene is very much drinking, young, don't bother me, I'm here to have fun, if you're not hot I don't want to talk to you -- that kind of atmosphere.
"Most people from my culture, from Vietnam, don't hold eye contact. It would be considered disrespectful to do that. I think living here and being from another culture, I really have acculturated to this society. I wouldn't say I've conformed.
"I really assess each situation on an individual basis. I don't do anything just because. Like, for example, you walked out here, gave me eye contact, and I gave you the eye contact back. Not because I was interested, or you were interested, or whatever -- it was because I was acknowledging you. It was a sign of respecting you, and you looking, period.