I'm introducing a new series to my blog, called "Hey You! Yes You". In each post, I'll introduce you to a new marvelous person that I have encountered here on Earth, each with their own interesting story. I'm humbly taking my inspiration from well known blogs such as Humans of New York and Yes and Yes True Stories, who have such talent at digging out the nugget that makes every one of us so unique.
I'm not sure how this series will evolve, but I'm excited to see it happen. Personally, I am also looking forward to turning the gaze outward. A lot of my professional and personal writing features me as the primary subject: my experiences, my feelings, my travels. This time, I get to sit in the interview chair and let other people speak.
After all, everybody has a story to tell.
In this first ever post, I have chosen a friend of mine here in Paris, Ellen. Ellen is a seriously talented musician and singer, who has just finished recording a to-be-named new album. You can follow her work on Soundcloud and Facebook.
She regularly coaxes the magic of unicorns out of her voice and into our ears on the Paris music scene, but that's not actually what we are going to focus on today.
By day she works in one of the most beautiful places on earth: The Eiffel Tower. As a tour guide, and has been up the Tower more than a hundred times. Like, way more.
I thought it would be fun to ask her a few questions about what that is like.
EXPLAIN YOURSELF!! Who are you?
HI! I’m Ellen. I’m originally from Dublin, Ireland.
I spent a decent bit of time in Paris when I was a kid, and I wanted to get out of Dublin for a bit and live somewhere else. The actual push to move to Paris specifically was a friend deciding she was coming here for a bit. I moved here in June 2012.
Tell us about being an Eiffel Tower Guide.
I became a guide kind of by accident. I had a friend who was doing it when I first arrived, and I thought it looked like something I could do.
I remember my first few tours all as one blur of trying to seem like I’d been doing it forever. I made lots of vague but loud statements like “How long have I been giving tours? Oh, HA, ehm, so long I can’t even REMEMBER!”. But before I did my training, I had never been up.
I lost count of how many times I've been up a long time ago but I’m somewhere in the 700’s.
What do you like the best about the tower?
This is so obvious, but really and truly, the view. Paris properly looks like a postcard. I also find it outrageous that it was designed with essentially a pencil and paper and MATHS. There’s also a story we tell about all the money invested in construction of the Tower being made back in the first six months that unfailingly gets audible gasps. That’s very satisfying.
What do you dislike?
The waiting to get back down again. Interminable unless you run down the stairs.
Tell us about giving a tour
Most of giving a tour is very un-special. You’re maneuvering a group of people around an unfamiliar and busy place so lots of my job is saying keeping people together and moving in the right direction. It’s very toasty in Summer and very much the opposite from October to April.
To be honest, I’m a little bored with it. I’ve spent so much time on the tower and it’s just not as magical as it once was. But not only is that a monumental [har har good one Ellen- AH] first world problem, but it’s also a big part of the job – keeping that from the people you’re bringing with you.
Striking the balance between coming off as super experienced but still slightly enchanted by the whole thing is the key.
Any memorable tour experiences?
Thankfully I’ve not had anything too traumatic happen on the Tower, I’ve been lucky. But people can be fascinating in their strangeness; once I had a party of 10 or 12 who took up most of the tour group, had thought I had been booked as a private guide, despite the other people in the group. They were constantly interrupting me, wandering in and out, asking questions about things I had already gone over, and at the end one of the guys in the group stroked my face as they were leaving.
I’ve also had some really great experiences. This example is actually pretty ordinary, but kind of sums it up. I had one tour at the end of a very long day, it was cold and I was still wet from being rained on all day. I was absolutely dreading my last tour but there was a little girl in the group who was just so delighted to be there, and lost her shit when the lights came on. It was very sweet.
I’ve been gifted a few glasses of champagne from the bar on the very top floor, and I once gave a private tour for a guy who wanted to propose to his girlfriend. My managers had emailed back and forth in advance and had a whole thing set up, including flowers at the top. It was lovely, but also terrifying as I had to give the entire tour without giving the game away.
Overall I’ve been really lucky but when you get a group of people who aren’t into it, just not buying what you’re selling, that tour will feel like it lasts about a million years. It can be difficult.
I’ve also been asked some really dumb questions (Can you see the Sistine Chapel from here?)
What’s your advice for people who want to visit?
Really consider doing your whole trip off-season. You will gain real genuine hours on your holiday, and avoid the “over-heated and cranky in a museum” moments.
If you’re going without a tour and you can manage a bit of a climb, consider taking the stairs, it’s much quicker on a busy day. Or, take the lifts up and walk down (that way you can say you’ve done it). It’s much faster. Also, figure out what time the sun is setting on the day you’re going. Magic.
And obviously, be nice to your tour guide! Yes, they will gratefully accept a tip! Remember his or her name and write a two line review somewhere online. It takes 30 seconds and we (and our managers) read them all.
Finally… will you have “Ellen Quinn- Banville: went up the Eiffel Tower over a million times” carved on your gravestone?
Probably not, but I will pull it out as a trivia item forever and ever. And dine out on all the stories.