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Monday, June 10, 2013

Tour Guide Personality Types

When we vacation one thing me and my wife enjoy are tours.  Boat tours, walking tours, ghost tours, history tours, carriage name a tour and we have probably tried it.  The key to any good tour is the Guide.  The guide makes or breaks the tour.  I have seen some amazing guides in my days.  Other times a guide can ruin your tour.  I have complied a list of common problems with guides we have come across.  It appears that it takes a delicate balance to make a good guide.

Mr. Over The Top

This is the Guide that is "all in".  A dead giveaway is a period costume or a fake accident.  This also includes ghost tour guides who use spooky voices and try to scare you.  Mr. Over the Top does not understand the art of subtlety.  A ghost story can not just be eerie, it has to end with a blood soaked zombie biting someone's head off.  All legends and stories are completely true and cannot be questioned.  I went on a ghost tour in St. Augustine where the tour guide actually did "voices" for the ghosts in the ghost stories he told.  It was more then a little distracting.  Mr. Over the Top will tell about his own "encounters" that are clearly fake or unbelievable, often making the stories about themselves.  You will also get local history tours where the historian needs to ratchet up their accent to a million.  One of my favorites was a tour I went on in New Orleans where the Guide, in a thick dripping accent, ended every sentence with the phrase "In this crescent city of New Orleans".  That one was actually pretty amazing.

The Buzzkill

The Buzzkill is Mr. Over The Top's Opposite.  Instead of exaggerating ghost stories they end ghost stories by pointing out the historic inaccuracies that make the ghost story unbelievable.  The Buzzkill talks about local legends dismissively and explains how they are likely not true.  A good example of Mr. Buzzkill was a tour guide we had in a cemetery in New Orleans.  Now popular legend is that Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen, is buried in St. Louis Cemetery, exactly where is dependent on who you ask.  Local custom is to place three Xs on her tomb and leave money to have her grant you a favor.  Our guide told us that Marie was not buried anywhere in the cemetery and that anyone who participated in this practice was a vandal.  Now, this may be true, but what fun is the truth when all it does is suck the life out of local legends.  The Buzzkill needs to learn to leave a little bit of magic in his stories.  The Buzzkill will often openly mock Mr. Over the Top, showing disdain for those who disperse false information.

The Stodgy Historian

Okay, I admit, that's not a real person
 The Stodgy Hisorian is similar to The Buzzkill in a lot of ways, as they have no interest in talking about questionable local legends.   The Stodgy Historian is going to give you the completely historically accurate story and nothing else.  The Stodgy Historian does not care if something is interesting or not, they will give you the full unadulterated version.  One of the worst tours I ever went on was a plantation tour in Charleston.  The woman who was our Guide spent the entire time talking about the furniture and silverware.  What it was made of, what time period it was, how valuable it it.  She didn't bother to mention anything about any sort of interesting subjects often associated with plantations, such as slavery or the civil war.....or anything that didn't involve interior decorating.  My problem with this sort of guide is that history is not boring.  This country has such a rich and sometimes disturbing history that there are always good stories to tell.  I don't need a two hour explanation on what periods different windowsills come from. 

The Babysitter

The Babysitter approaches at the Billy Graham Library
 The Babysitter is the Guide that shows up when you don't need a guide.  The Babysitter does not understand that you may want to see something at your own pace or you don't need someone to hold your hand in a museum.  I am a fan of small local museums as they often hold hidden treasures.  I always get a little nervous when I realize that the curator is coming along for the ride.  Your never quite sure if they are trying to be helpful or if they are worried that you are going to steal shit.  A good museum docent is happy to talk to you, but will let you roam free if you want. The Billy Graham Museum and Library is a good example of this.  For one, you are not even allowed to enter the next room until the guide opens it and releases you to the next guide (they have for every room).  I remember the akward feeling as me and my buddy were watching a video about Billy Graham and a guide came up and stood so close behind us I could hear him breathing.  He stood there silent during the whole film.

Not every guide falls into one of these categories and some guides take a little bit from each column.  In my honest the best guides are the ones who somehow manage to sidestep these, but occasionally you will get one from one of these categories who manages to be interesting regardless.

Good traveling!

The Carpetbagger

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