We Think You're Annoying and Other Confessions of a Tour Guide

A guide in the nation’s capital reveals what’s on his mind. (Photo: Thinkstock)

“Ben” was a full-time tour guide in Washington D.C. for almost a decade, telling stories and sharing factoids about North America and the nation’s capital. Here, he shares his biggest pet peeves. If you’ve ever wondered what tour guides are thinking and worried that you’re annoying them, well, you are. Read on.

We get some stupid questions. These are the ones that have been addressed to the group but there’s always at least that one person who just can’t seem to listen. If your guide is good (read: nice) he or she will repeat things over and over. It’s impossible to have the complete attention of 50 people all at once, and we know that. Hence the repetition. We say it on the microphone, we write it down in the motorcoach, we print you little slips of paper with all the information we just said, and we leave a backup at the front desk… and you’re still asking, “So, what time is dinner?”

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Think before you speak. (Photo: Thinkstock)

We understand that you’re on vacation, and your brain is in relaxation mode — but you’ve got to pay attention!

Other stupid questions: “Where’s the best place to score some cocaine?” “My roommate snores, can you switch him into someone else’s room?” “Is it going to be a problem if we invite strippers into our room?” “Why does it take so long to drive everywhere?” “Why can’t you just get rid of paper money?”

But then there are some stupid questions that I enjoy, like when a client asked if Lake Michigan was the Arctic Ocean. Or if President Obama was really from Kenya.

Related: The Absolute Worst People on the Plane

You really asked that? (Photo Thinkstock)

We hate country comparisons. The Aussies are particularly bad with this: “Why don’t you wear helmets on motorcycles?” “Why don’t you make guns illegal?” “Why don’t you have plastic money?” And here’s my favorite: “Why don’t you have fresh food in America?” Questions like these put me, as an American, on the defensive, feeling like I need to stand up for my country and work as an ambassador working to educate. So one thing I encouraged my clients to do was to ask the question more constructively. And this goes for when Americans are traveling abroad themselves.

Try recasting the question: “Why do you have paper money?” Or: “Why do I sometimes see people wearing helmets on motorcycles and sometimes not?” There’s a big difference to asking, “Why do you…” instead of “Why don’t you…” It may seem small, but asking the question with “don’t” tells me that they are already judging our laws and customs and food. Whereas if someone asks a “do,” it shows that the person is truly curious, and my answer is naturally going to be more forthright and authentic.

A little tip goes a long way. (Photo: Thinkstock)

We don’t appreciate when you don’t tip. Tipping is a custom that can be hard to comprehend and understand. Even a lot of people in America are opposed to it. But being opposed to something isn’t enough to ignore it… You can be opposed to taxes, but you still have to pay. In the travel industry, tipping is the lubricant that keeps the machine rolling. You see cheap tours, excursions, and fares — what you don’t see is that many companies make their bottom line by assuming that tips will cover their employees’ wages. It’s a system that certainly has it’s ugly side but I would argue that tipping works on the ground level. If you’re willing to tip, you get your drinks and meals faster, and you get better service in the process. I’ve spent a lot of time in other countries, and typically those without a tipping culture tend to offer worse service.

As a guide I always made the majority of my income off tips. But, it’s important from my perspective. It’s my job to be indispensable everyday. I never deserved tips, but I always earned them. And in the process I worked exceptionally hard to showcase my continent, my country, and my city. With that said, there are dozens of well-meaning, hard-working people we encounter in the process of a tour who offer everything from white water rafting and hot air balloon rides to great dinners and drinks… and those people also rely on tips. I stake my reputation on each group, and when they don’t tip it’s a reflection on me.

Related: Are You Cheap? The 10 Commandments of (Travel) Tipping You Need to Know

Why let booze ruin the trip? (Photo: Thinkstock)

We hate drunks. Enjoying drinks is a big part of enjoying a place but getting wasted every night is just stupid. Especially when you’re disrupting the experience of other travelers. If that’s your aim, here’s a pro tip: save the $3,000 airfare and use it all at your local bar; the experience will be basically the same. You’ll wake up hungover trying to figure out what happened the night before. Having a few epic nights on a vacation is totally fine, but when you’re entire vacation is an epic night, your next vacation will probably be to a treatment center.

Related: The Drunk, The Horndog, and Bad Parents: The 15 Most Irritating People You Meet While Traveling

Late again? We WILL leave you behind. I was always pretty lax when it came to being on time. But you also don’t want to punish the people who are consistently on time by forcing them to wait for the latecomers. So if someone was consistently late, they could expect to walk out one day and find the motorcoach long gone. It’s an expensive pain in the ass to catch back up with the group. My advice: if you’re chronically late, find someone to be your on-time buddy.

Try it, you might like it. (Photo: Thinkstock)

We hate people who aren’t open to food. I used to have a rule: if you made a face of disgust as I described a meal, then you’d be the first that I’d make try it. Eating is key to travel, and if you’re not trying things beyond your comfort zone you’re robbing yourself of the full experience. Food is as central to culture as language. And travel is about understanding as much as it is about leisure. The last thing you should be doing is trying to eat the same when you’re abroad as you do when you’re at home. Don’t complain that the bread or soda tastes different. Savor it. Human memory works in really bizarre ways, and you’ll be surprised at how a taste lingers in your mind far longer than a sound or a sight. So even if you’re sure it’s going to be disgusting, you won’t know until you try. And be ready to expand your horizons — you may just fall in love with something you never would have tried otherwise.

As told to Ko Im

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