Is that true? Or did you hear it from a tour guide?
That's something to ponder whenever you regurgitate a fascinating titbit to a friend or colleague and they look at you quizzically. Are you 100 per cent sure that's a fact? Or is it just something someone told you?
This is the thing: sometimes tour guides lie. Sometimes they let slip with little mistruths. And sometimes they just don't know what they're talking about.
Of course, there are many brilliant guides out there who know all of their facts and pass them on with passion – but there are also plenty who will mislead you, either as a joke or unwittingly. If you've heard any of the following, I wouldn't go passing it on …
"That's the mountain from the Paramount logo"
I've heard this a few times. I've heard it from a guide in Switzerland, I've heard it in Italy, and I've heard it in Peru. Here's a mountain that looks just like the famous Paramount Pictures logo – so, it must be the one, right? It's not. The truth is that there is no Paramount mountain. It's an animation, a sketch, originally inspired by a peak in Utah, but now just a rendering of a generic summit. Not the one you're now staring at.
"That one? That's Castle … Schloss"
It's so much harder to a be a tour guide now compared with, say, 15 years ago, when no one had Google and you could pretty much say whatever you liked, as long as it sounded convincing. I was once working with a tour guide who was asked about a random castle we were passing in Germany. "What's that castle called?" the passenger asked. The guide looked out the window and frowned. "That's Castle … Schloss." (If you don't get it, throw "schloss" into Google Translate.)
"Sorry, it's closed today"
Sometimes this is the truth. That shop you want to visit, that museum, that monument, that restaurant: sometimes it really is shut. Sometimes, however, the tour guide just wants to steer you away from a certain place that they know will be annoying and time-consuming to get to and won't actually be very good anyway, and it's far easier to just tell you it's closed rather than get into a discussion about it.
"That's a cloud factory"
This one definitely falls into the joke category, and it's one you tend to figure out pretty quickly. Most bus tours around France will probably take you past a nuclear power station, which have the huge chimney stacks billowing smoke. A tour leader I once worked with would tell the passengers it was a cloud factory, built in collaboration with neighbouring Spain, because the rain there had been falling mainly on the plain. Sigh.
"He's obsessed with cleanliness"
You'll only hear this on multi-day tours, and it's a good one. It's all about creating an image of someone, making clients believe that that person is hard-working and conscientious. I used to work as a cook on bus tours, and I'd always roll my eyes and tell the passengers, very early on, that our bus driver was obsessed with cleanliness and would always be sweeping or cleaning the bus. He'd say the same about me and my cooking equipment. We'd then clean things – the bus, the dishes – in full view of the passengers a few times. And then everyone would think we were a pair of clean-freaks.
"This was during the Battle of Hastings in 1166 …"
Dates. Distances. Times. Prices. Hours. Names. Stories. Tour guides have a lot of things to keep in their heads. There's a fair bit more to their jobs than just regurgitating information, too. So you can forgive them, occasionally, for getting things slightly wrong. Particularly when those facts really don't matter that much in the grand scheme of things. The Battle of Hastings was in 1066, not 1166. But, who cares?
"I'm not really interested in politics"
Sometimes, it's just easier for tour guides if they don't get into politics. In some countries having the wrong opinion can get you in a lot of trouble. Sharing that opinion with visitors, even more so. And in other countries it can just lead to unwanted, awkward conversations. Tour guides tend to fend this off simply by saying they're not much interested in politics. That kills the conversation. Everyone moves on. Sometimes it's just easier that way.
Have you been told any untruths by tour guides? Was it forgivable, or did you find it annoying? What's the most obvious tall tale you've been told?