I’ve been a bicycle tour guide in Paris for more than two years, and this is a topic I’ve been thinking of writing about for a while. I resisted it because I’m not a fan of bitchsticles (bitchy-list-articles) and I couldn’t really see how this would interest anybody except me and my guide friends.
Then I realised something that changed my mind:
The tour you get depends on the tourist you are.
That is, the way you as a tourist behave on tour can directly affect your day. And you paid good money for your tour right? So you should be getting the best possible experience. However, many kind, polite and normally awesome people can still be Irritating Tourists, simply because they don't realise what goes on behind the scenes.
So while this list is kind of self-serving, I hope that it might help you too.
Be the kind of tourist that guides love
Understand that tours are not off-the-peg experiences. Although you might be used to Netflix and snapchat, your guide is not actually a television. They can see you, and see if you are or are not responding to them. If they ask questions, participate, if they ask your preference for one activity or another, give them a response. When I see that I have an unresponsive, uninterested-seeming group, I will go onto autopilot. When I have an engaged, friendly group that obviously appreciates what I’m doing, I’ll go miles out of my way to give them the best tour possible. Things as simple as smiling, nodding or standing closer to the guide so she doesn’t have to shout let them know you are interested.
Guides often have to repeat simple instructions dozens and dozens of times, and every time they do, time is taken away from the experience. And also drives them insane.
“We will be making a bathroom break after this visit”
“After this visit, yep, there will be a bathroom break”
“The next break will be after this visit”
“No, I haven’t forgotten the bathroom break, it will be after this visit”i
See how irritating that is? Now imagine being the one saying it.
Being repetitive is also why guides don’t like it if you pre-empt the content. For example, if you are riding down a road towards the Eiffel Tower, you can reasonably assume the guide will stop and talk about the Eiffel Tower. Sidling up to them and asking privately “So why was the Eiffel Tower built?” may impel them to tell you something ridiculous and sarcastic.
Use your noggin
Don’t ask non-sequitur questions when your guide is doing something tricky, like negotiating a busy traffic intersection, (ahem Place de la Concorde). Your safety may actually depend on their concentration.
Be on time
Almost all tours have a designated time limit, so for every minute you are late you are eating into another activity. The guide often has time restrains or deadlines that you are unaware of, but which affect the quality of the tour, for example train or boat departures, performance schedules or even when the café is likely to be the busiest.
Continue to be a parent
A (female) guide is not a free nanny, and no matter how well they seem to get along with the kids, they already have a job.
Let your guide eat
If you are on a tour which includes a lunch or dinner break, try not to pepper them with non-stop questions. I can’t count the number of times I’ve finished a 9 hour tour with only a bite or two of a baguette in me. Your guide needs the energy more than you do.
Be a team player
Majority rules when it comes to group tours. If you show up to a casual family bike tour in Lycra and your own helmet when everyone else is in sandals and casual clothes, adjust your expectations. While you may have imagined a high-speed tour, the guide has to go with majority. Pestering them to go faster or bitching about the slow people in a group will win you no friends. If you are unable to make these concessions and play nice with others, book a private tour.
Sometimes there truly is nowhere to buy water, a jumper, a spare battery… whatever during the tour. As an adult, you’re expected to think for yourself a little bit, and come prepared. And don't expect your guide to pull these things out of thin air. I ain't no Mary Poppins.
From asking the guide too many personal questions. “Why did you move here? How long will you stay? Do you have a boyfriend?”. This is tricky because it is friendly and natural to want to get to know your guide, and they appreciate you taking an interest, but try to bear in mind that if they have been working for even just one month, they will have been asked the same questions literally thousands of times.
That being a tour guide is a real job. While it may appear to be nothing but sunshine and rainbows, it is actually very hard work. You know that expression “You don’t notice good makeup?” the same is true of guiding. If your day went smoothly, its because your guide was exceptionally good and worked their ass off.
It's hard not to be annoyed when after greeting and charming my group, learning everyone's names, reassuring a nervous rider, herding a dozen wobbly cyclist through busy traffic, changing a flat tire, administering simple first aid, translating at the boulangerie, and explaining the complexities of the French Revolution with perfect date recall, I get asked “So what’s your real job?”.
And above all...
Have fun! Leave your issues at the door, and get excited!