How To Be an Amateur Tour Guide: Some Handy Hints for Showing a Visiting Pal Around Your Town

December 11, 2015
Photo by Sannah Kvist

Your friend has arrived from overseas, interstate or a ditch somewhere far away, and it’s up to you to show them the best your hometown has to offer. But where to start? And how to design a tourist experience, when you yourself have probably never been a tourist in your own hometown? Or what if, worse still, you make it a point of only leaving your house to take out the garbage and find your hometown a tedious hell hole that induces violent flashbacks? Well, buckle in, friend. Because everything old is about to become new.

Think with all five senses. The tourist experience isn’t just what you see. That’s the postcard experience, which, in my hometown, traditionally entails depictions of our main train station, a dead looking koala and women’s breasts. It’s also the visual diet of a psychopath and something I wish we would move away from. Sadly, that isn’t my call. Taking my friend around Chinatown was, however, and there she made smell memories that will last a lifetime. Remember: your friend is a human being with hopefully all five senses intact. Where will they smell, hear, touch or taste something extraordinary?

Relax. Enforcing an itinerary could give the impression of a military, rather than tourist experience, and your guest may feel compelled to keep up, suppressing their interests, curiosity or need to change a saturated tampon. In which case, what’s the point? When I took my friend around the national gallery, we let the art guide us, instead of our watches. With no particular schedule burdening our afternoon, we were able to fully indulge in the masterpieces of some of history’s greatest geniuses, while also shooting the shit and feeling all cultural, which is certainly what Picassos are for.

Show them the everyday. You’ve probably lived in your hometown so long that all its details, from the sordid to the sublime, have merely become background. And elements such as street performers are just another thing to avoid, like herpes or people from high school. But you never know what will delight an outsider. When I was in France, one of my favourite thing to look at was fields of cows, because they were all white, which I’d never seen before. From my reaction, my local friend thought I’d never seen a cow before. I explained that I had, but that I’d only ever seen the brown and black piece of shit cows we have back home. The point: your idea of ordinary might just be your guest’s idea of magic.

Stories bring places to life. So why hesitate to share your wealth of cultural and historical local knowledge? Just because you’re not a historian, doesn’t mean you don’t remember bits and pieces from school and can’t fill in the rest with whatever you’ve seen on TV. Of course, if you’ve really got nothing up your sleeve, dig into Wikipedia. When I recently researched my hometown for the benefit of a visiting friend, I discovered how a good deal of it was “bought” from Aboriginals in exchange for a bunch of random crap, including 250 handkerchiefs. I never knew that! Obviously, that story is a horrifying one, but that’s humanity for you.

Teach them the lingo. It’s unlikely your guest wants to be a silent witness and nothing more in the holiday that has cost them their time, wages and sleeping pattern. Teach them how to sound like a local, so they can participate in events or hit on a good looking stranger. When I visited a small French village, I was mildly terrified of interacting, until I learned their custom of speaking in one continuous vowel sound, whereupon I made friends with the entire community, was toasted at a local dance and played cards with a local ruffian, who found me so charming, he just had to buy me a kebab. I still remember that kebab.

Image: Sannah Kvist


This article first appeared in Frankie Magazine issue 68 (Nov/Dec 2015).

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