Name 20 countries from the European Union. Imagine the “typical” citizens of those countries–their features, their demeanors, their gestures, their accents. Now picture a collection of 120 people from those countries who are passionate aficionados on the history, art, culture, politics, and people of those motherlands all descending on a small town just north of Seattle in the middle of winter. If they were all visiting you, what would you share with them about your town, your state, your country? What do think would intrigue you about each of them?
This is what happened in my hometown just last week. 120 of my tour guide colleagues invaded Edmonds for our annual Rick Steves Tour Guide Summit. While we were gathered to work on policies, logistics, and itineraries, we were all secretly (OK, overtly) giddy to just spend quality time together. Non-business time was an endless festival of friendship, camaraderie, and kindred spirits. Yet among the commonalities that bind us–and there are many–it was a delight to make cultural discoveries about one another.
Stephen McPhilemy has a real gift of gab. With his Irish eyes a-smilin’, his love for his Celtic heritage blends with his ability to poke fun at his own culture, giving us tales that are poignant insights into the Irish way of life.
When our office staff threw an American-style potluck for the guides, lips smacked, mouths watered, and fingers were licked over traditional American dishes like BBQ pork, apple pie, tater tot casserole, and “Tuscan pasta salad”.
During the guide party hosted in our house, we had a cultural show and tell. And the Italians proved that it’s not only Americans who need a cheat sheet to get through the second verse of their national anthem.
To get the guides into the Seattle vibe, three yellow school buses took our guides downtown to ride the Ducks–amphibious vehicles that tour the streets of Seattle and cruise Lake Union. Replete with costume changes, themed music, and corny jokes, the Duck guides taught Seattle history, architecture, and lore. Our guides were all in awe saying that these were among the best tours and best guides they’ve ever had.
When I think of Spain, I think of passionate people, and Federico Garcia lets his passion shine through in his voice. Give this man a microphone and let yourself be serenaded by his tender tenor tones. It’s not just that he can sing–he makes the beauty, tenderness, intensity, pride, and complexity of the Spanish culture come to life through song. Placido Domingo’s got nothing on this Spaniard.
When dining with two of our dear Turkish guides, conscious of their religious dietary restrictions, we ordered rigatoni…with the pancetta on the side for me and Rick.
With only two representatives from Portugal, Cristina and Cristina were among the smallest contingencies of the European guides. But their patriotic pride could fill an entire country with their hearty rendition of their national anthem–a slight dig at us Americans and the US vs. Portugal World Cup match coming up on June 22.
One of our great Brits, Roy Nichols defended the small “mountains” of Britain (what we’d consider large hills) as “quality over quantity”.
With a taco truck in our driveway, our European guides devoured traditional Mexican dishes for hours. People just couldn’t get enough. One guide remarked, “Our cuisine has nothing as spicy as this. I think I’m in love.”
Hearing about our “big box” stores, some of our guides made a b-line for Costco to stock up on treats and souvenirs to take back home to the Czech Republic.
Not one to hide his pride, Scotsman Colin Mairs flaunted his nation’s traditional attire, prompting Rick to wonder, “Is it true what they say about what Scotsman wear–or don’t wear–under their kilts?”
And in the spirit of embracing the culture you’re visiting, our guides hit the streets of Seattle to tailgate during the NFC Championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks, becoming the newest official members of the 12th Man. GO HAWKS!
For more insight on the Rick Steves Guide Summit and Tour Reunion, check out Rick Steves’ Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/RickSteves