So – tell me about Brisbane. Well, that’s a funny story.
[Also, erzählen Sie mir doch mal etwas über Brisbane. Tja, das ist eine lustige Geschichte…]
I don’t really know what I’d expected. That I could just wing it? Read notes off a piece of paper and expect it to work? Who did I think I was?
I really should have seen it coming.
I mean, it was a city tour. City tour guides need to know STUFF. Stuff like dates and names of buildings and funny stories about historical landmarks. I didn’t know anything about Brisbane, even though I’ve lived here for seven years. And I’m not good with dates.
It really shouldn’t have been a shock when the advice of a well-seasoned Brisbane guide came through the phone: Oh gosh no, you can’t just read off a piece of paper! They expect you to know all of the information. They will mark you badly if you just read. Oh well, you have a couple of days. You’ll have to learn.
I know I’m passing the blame here, but I kind of got roped into this. My editor from Our Planet Travel was supposed to lead the tour, a bus-driven German cruise ship trip around Brisbane, Mount Coot-tha and Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, but couldn’t – so I agreed to step in. The money sounded good, particularly as I have been in-between jobs. And besides, it was tourism! I know tourism, I’ll be fine. Yes, it required me to speak German all day, and to remember a few facts, but surely it couldn’t be that difficult, right?
When it became clear that I had a lot of studying to do (after talking with Waltraud, the expert tour guide who spoke so fast about the route my bus should take and made me feel completely inadequate for NOT knowing every single historical landmark in Brisbane), I went into a 2-day lockdown. The process went something like this: Google – Mental translate – German dot points. Google – Mental translate – German dot points. [Coffee break.] Google – Mental translate… you get the idea.
It was a good system, in essence, as I learnt while I was writing, but it was so time consuming. I created a table with pictures, names and key interesting facts about each local landmark, though as it turned out there are landmarks that we drove past on the tour that I didn’t even know existed in Brisbane, let alone had I studied for them. Nevertheless, I did my table. I revised.
What wasn’t ideal was that we had a wedding to attend at the Gold Coast the night before I was due to be a tour guide. The wedding was absolutely beautiful, and very enjoyable. It also lasted until 11:30pm. I was due to be up at 5am, out the door by 5:30am and ready to meet the other guides at 6:30am. Do the calculations if you like; that’s not much sleep. Worse yet, I woke up at 4am that morning in a panic. Why did I agree to this?!?
Yes, I know – I can be a little dramatic. But when you’re operating on 4.5 hours’ sleep and you’re about to conduct 11+ hours of tours without having memorised lots of dates (and with the demanding tone of Waltraud in the back of your head), it’s a little daunting.
Alas, I made it to the port on time. And there she was, in all her multileveled cruise ship glory: the MS Artania, on her tour around the world.
These passengers would have been on dozens of city tours. They had a lot to compare me to. I was scared.
On my first bus, I had 46 German pensioners and a random Asian man. To this day I don’t know why the Asian man was there, as he didn’t seem to speak any German. The group also had an escort – a lady named Diddi whose bleached blonde hair and pumped up lips were complimented by her holiday-blue polo and chirpy, husky voice.
Diddi didn’t know that it was my first time as a tour leader, not from the start anyway. She looked somewhat critical of my constant flipping of papers to find my notes, and kept encouraging me to talk about random things such as school uniforms, car registration plates and the Brisbane climate. I hadn’t realised how much down time there would be between the port and the inner city, so she was right in encouraging me to be chatty. I wasn’t prepared, but I managed. In my nervousness, I think I made up a few dates and names along the way, but given that I didn’t notice any of the oldies head-down on their mobile phones checking the information on google, I assume I got away with it.
My second tour was much better. Knowing what to expect this time, I chatted happily away about whatever came to mind, intermittently texting Tyson to send me some interesting facts about Brisbane that I could mention. At one stage I proudly told the group that Brisbane had about 380 days of sunshine a year (instead of 280) and that made for an amusing moment for everyone on the bus. The group was chattier; more involved – one man asked me about luxury car import taxes in Australia and another told me half his life story including that he used to be fluent in Russian. The second best reaction I got (after the sunny days) was when I mentioned that there are now over 400 Aldi stores in Australia. Germans! Everyone seemed happier on this second tour – perhaps more relaxed because I was more relaxed. I even ended up with about $150 worth of tips (albeit some of it was in US Dollars, Euros and Barbados Dollars)!
At the end of the day, I was exhausted. I’d managed the tours, despite my fears; I’d learnt some information about my own city and I’d challenged myself. In the end, I guess it’s that last bit that counts.
Never be afraid to embrace a new challenge. Even if it’s terrifying. Even if it’s out of your comfort zone. You may make new friends, you will definitely learn something, and you will realise that the only person stopping you from being successful at something is you.
Take it from me. I’m an expert Brisbane city tour guide now. Watch out, Waltraud!