What makes a good guide?

Date post added: 22nd November 2019


The worst guide I ever had the misfortune to “experience” was a college student in Colorado. It was twelve years ago. I’ve never got over it.

She was “guiding” an old Colorado silver mine that had been turned into “a tourist attraction.”

It was completely scripted. Every last word. Had to be in her case – and I should think in the case of virtually all of her fellow “guides” – because she knew zilch about Colorado silver mines. She brought nothing to the subject in terms of some previous study, an informed background, personal experience, etc. Let alone expertise.

The script was the rail she ran on. And necessarily stayed on. She wasn’t able to go off piste – shameless mixing of metaphor here – because she knew nothing about the subject.

She was – sigh – a flesh and blood recorded announcement.

And so we come to the rest of the problem. The announcement, the delivery. It was verbal assault and battery – expressly designed, so it seemed, to make you lose the will to live. Every single word was shouted. This was a young woman – a “guide” – who was labouring under the massive misapprehension that shouting is guiding.

It gets worse. (Got worse.) Every word was hammered. Emphasised. Including “to” and “at’ and “and” and “for” and “on” and on and on. Hammered the same way. No variation whatsoever. Same weight, same impact for every single word. Listening to it was like being a tree on the receiving end of a woodpecker’s attention.

Well, the coed – that badly dated word – was probably all of 20 years old. Hadn’t had time, hadn’t lived enough to know very much. It’s always worth keeping in mind that the human brain isn’t fully developed until a person is 25 or 26 years old.

But there’s a useful takeaway here. Namely, that there are guides and there are guides. Script “guiding” – memorising a script and chundering it out – is not guiding. Proper guiding and script “guiding” are two very different animals. It’s like the difference between Kool-Aid and a really fine wine. Or the difference between a school orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic.

Bottom line: it’s worth taking the trouble to get yourself a proper guide.


N.B. the cracking photos are by Xing Gao and Bill Pennell