How (NOT) To Be A Tourist

I’ve worked as a tour guide at one of my hometown’s top tourist attractions on and off for four years. I’ve seen it all—people who want to see everything, but only have an hour; people who think they’re queen for a day, but have no visible crown; clueless grandparents; insane children; and my very favorite, the Know-It-All. I’ve also met my fair share of truly delightful and enthusiastic guests who make me love my job. Because I do—I love my job and I have tons of fun at work. But sometimes, you meet the crazies. So, with help from others in tourism, here’s my foolproof guide to making me love you and asking you to stay forever.

1.  Are you the tour guide? No. That would be me. I don’t care if you’re the King who built this place. I’m the guide. I worked a long time to do this right. It’s frustrating when you point out landmarks to your friends right before I’m getting ready to tell the whole group, or stand right next to me like you’re in charge. Unless you are translating or interpreting for someone, you’re getting the “OH HELL NO” glare from me. And then I’ll probably pull out some arcane piece of trivia you couldn’t possibly know. This is my stage and my 30 minutes of fame, and I plan on OWNING it

2.  Don’t use an iPad as a camera. Just don’t. It’s weird, and pretentious. If you have an ipad, that’s great. I’m really happy for you. But when you hold it up to take a picture, it looks like you’re trying to give a solar panel more access to the sun. If you have an iPad, you probably also have an iPhone. Just use this. I’ll probably stare at you a lot less during the tour.

3.  Think before you speak—blurters need not apply. Yes, I am used to answering the same questions over and over. It’s part of my job. But be creative and try to challenge me—I’m always happy to play Stump the Tour Guide with you, it makes my job more interesting. If you ask me something I literally said two minutes before, and you were standing three feet away from me, I’ll give you my patented “Oh sweetie no” look as I answer. Use your head. To quote the great Jimmy Dugan, “that’s that lump three feet above your a$$.” If you really don’t get an obvious question answered for whatever reason, ask at the end of the tour. That way, it’s more like a review of the information on the tour and I don’t have to worry about showing you up in front of the other guests.

While we’re talking about questions…

4.  Use your classroom manners. Tour guides work long and hard to learn and perfect the tour script. We each have our own rhythm for our tours, and we follow a mental outline so we can give you the best possible experience with as much pertinent information as possible. So, please wait to ask questions until we ask “Are there any questions?” Once again, blurters need not apply. Please don’t just shout something out—it disrupts the flow of the tour. Raise your hand so I know you have a question. Also, please don’t get huffy if I give you perfunctory answer. I will answer your question in full, but it’s probably part of a later tour section, and I want to be able to give you and everyone else all the information I can with proper visual cues and Kodak moments.  Every time I have a school group tour, I tell the kids that they need three things on tour with me: two listening ears, two walking feet and one great big smile. If you’re four or forty, this still applies.

5.  Every tour is different. You may have visited this attraction 30 times. For someone else on the tour, it may be their first (or only) visit. Please don’t detract from their experience by asking questions you already know the answer to simply to try to one-up the tour guide. Don’t ask if we’re going to see this or that “because you’ve seen it every other time you’ve visited”—I promise you we’ll see everything we possibly can. Some areas may be off-limits due to other events or weather restrictions, and tour guides like to avoid having guests feel like they’re missing out on something that wouldn’t have known about had you not mentioned it. Every guide has a different style of giving tours—it’s not fair to compare us to each other. In the end, we’re all equally awesome.

6.  Laugh at our jokes. Please? It’s nice when our puns get a laugh. Humor us—we’ll be nicer. And they’ll just keep coming anyway. If we’re not having fun, no one is having fun.

7.  Don’t be smarmy. If we can’t accommodate one of your requests or we make a mistake, don’t give us attitude.

 8.  Unless your family is a circus act of seven abnormally tall redheads, it’s very unlikely that we’ll remember them. If you come up to us and ask where your group is, we will always point to the gift shop. Because we have no idea where they are.

 9.  We will mock you. If you wear white tennis shoes, dress in matching outfits and aren’t 80 years old, are generally rude or don’t observe the above guidelines, we will mock you. For days. Our days are long, and we get bored easily. First impressions count and we generally brand people as crazies as soon as you walk in the door, so please, follow Oprah’s advice and be your best self during your visit.

 10.   Don’t shoot the messenger. Tour guides don’t make the prices, write the schedules or run the place. Sure, we’re the face the public sees, and we work hard to give you the best experience we can. If we tell you something isn’t possible, please trust that we know what we’re talking about and that we’ve already checked to make sure that can’t happen for you. You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. And you’ll probably have just as much fun as if you got to do that other thing.

 11.    If you enjoyed yourself, let us know. All tour guides are divas—we like knowing when you had fun. Compliment us in person, send an email, post an online comment—it makes our jobs worth it. Same goes if we could make your experience better. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but the gracious, polite squeaky wheel receives our endless respect.


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