What do Buenos Aires, Houston, Bilbao, Kent, England, the Ivory Coast, Toronto and Berlin (and more!) have in common? In these cities, the locals, known as Greeters, welcome tourists and escort them through their home city, forfree. These volunteers aim to show a tourist the parts of the city that truly play a role in their everyday lives. What a way to discover a new place.
This program is a very unique offer of companionship and a way to see a new city off the beaten path. In 1992, the first “welcome visitor” program like this emerged in New York, and has the idea to conquer the whole world. Meanwhile, in 23 cities Greeters are now welcoming tourists. I spoke with Zoya Shurygina from Moscow, Anne Chabot from Marseillesand Anne Macvean from Melbourne, each currently volunteering as Greeters in their city.
tripwolf: Why and when did you become a Greeter?
Zoya: Moscow Greeter since 2010: “I wanted a job that allowed me to interact with travelers in the beautiful landscape of Moscow, speak foreign languages and mingle with different people from all over the world. I wanted to share my love for Moscow with them! I also did not want to find myself stuck in an office, but outside and wandering through the city. After I’d searched through countless websites for jobs, I stumbled upon a program looking for someone to be a”Moscow Greeter” – I applied right away because it was exactly what I was looking for.”
Anne Chabot: A New Marseilles Greeter: “I wanted to be a Greeter right from the start when I met Rabiha Benaissa, the founder of the Greeter program in Marseilles and Provence. I thought the idea was brilliant, because so many travelers now want to travel off the beaten path and want to experience a place like the locals do. This job seemed the best way to meet new people and show them my favorite parts of Marseilles. Surprisingly, I heard that Marseilles had a very bad image in other parts of Europe!. It was time for me to show that things have changed!”
Anne Macvean: Melbourne Greeter since 2003: “About eight years ago, knowing I was missing the chance to speak the languages I had been able to use so often when I was living and traveling overseas – a friend mentioned that she had seen some publicity for the Melbourne Greeter Service. The idea of becoming a Greeter immediately appealed to me, not only because it would be a way for me to regularly have the opportunity to speak German and French, but also because so many lovely people had been so welcoming to me when I was traveling. I wanted to be able to return the favor by welcoming strangers to Melbourne. ”
tripwolf: What do you like about your job as a greeter?
Zoya: “I love to talk to people and show them the best sights in Moscow, some which remain hidden from the eyes of “normal” tourists. I also tell them unusual things about us, the Moscow citizens – for us and the Russians in general – that are cultural. In return, it is great to learn about the countries of the tourists – their common foods, sports, traditions, customs, architecture, people, culture, politics. All this is even greater incentive for me and other Greeters to continue to learn new languages. Finally, we welcome people from all over the world because it is very nice to talk to them in their language, not only in English. We also need to read a lot, looking for interesting information together, work out all-new tour routes – all expanding our horizons.”
Anne Chabot: “Even though I have spent some time abroad, I wanted to meet more people from other countries and speak different languages. Also, I love to bring people to places that are not in any guide book and see their happy smiles at the end of a tour.”
Anne Macvean: “The unexpected bonus of being a Greeter has been my discovery of so much more about Melbourne! For many years I have worked, shopped, dined and gone to many films and performances in the city center – now having visitors ask me questions about Melbourne, I can share what I have learned with them. Although I have read so many interesting books about Melbourne and its history, there are still more that are waiting to be read! And of course it’s great to also meet so many different and interesting people!”
tripwolf: Who participates in the Greeter Tours?
Zoya: “There are completely different people from all over the world, all with different occupations – teenagers, students and adults. Overall, they have one thing in common: They are very positive, easy-going, versatile, and they are ready to broaden their horizons – they love traveling and talking to people. They are like us, we are like them.”
Anne Chabot: “Most of the people I Greet are journalists – mainly from Northern Europe. This is a good way for them to begin their trip and see what is the most important or interesting thing for the readers of their articles.”
Anne Macvean: “All sorts of people ask to be shown Melbourne by a local – from children to people in their late seventies. So many different people take part in my orientations, including backpacking students on their summer break, teachers, retirees, engineers, botanists, a vacuum cleaner salesman, and even someone who worked at the White House. Some people come on their own, some as family groups and some are groups of friends. People from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, Senegal, Japan, China, Canada, Taiwan, the USA, Mexico, England, Wales, Scotland, India, Spain, Korea, Italy have all taken part – and that’s just the countries I remembered off the top of my head! I have also shown Australians around, some even from Melbourne.”
tripwolf: Do you remember a particularly funny story?
Zoya: “One day I had met a woman named Karen. At first glance, we knew that she must be a very funny person, because the first thing she said was: “Sorry, today I forgot to wear my heels.” Funnily enough, the other Greeter, Galina and I, were in summer dresses and open sandals – Galina with her particularly super high heels. Throughout the day we asked about Karen about herself as we walked – any photos needed to be from the knees up, so her friends back home would not see her sneakers. That was just the beginning of a series of humorous experiences. Another time we came across a wedding party: Karen was so impressed by the couple that she wanted to take a picture with them. Suddenly the drunken wedding guests began to photograph us, instead of taking photos of the bride and groom. We were even invited to the wedding, but we rejected amicably.”
Anne Macvean: “One couple I met grew up in the DDR, so they had very little English and the Russian they had learned as their second language at school was not much use to them here! They had already seen a great deal of Australia when they reached Melbourne. They were thrilled to talk to a local and receive answers to so many unanswered questions from their travels. We spent hours talking about Australia – I’m not sure how much of Melbourne they actually got to see as we were so busy talking!
A man who has prospected for opals for the past 40 years has also set up a shop in Melbourne. In one corner of his opal shop, there are snakes, spiders and lizards which he has found whilst digging in the desert. Many visitors are amazed to meet him and his creatures, but they were especially amazed when he was raising money for charity by living in his shop window for three weeks with these venomous spiders – all released from their enclosures and making their homes there with him!
The City of Melbourne often commissions fabulous artworks that are installed in the city’s laneways. People are amazed to see a stairway leading to the sky, or a giant chandelier that seems to have fallen, lodging itself between the opposite walls of a narrow lane. The one that visitors were most amazed to see was a cleverly made ‘skin’ that looked exactly like the bricks on a two-storey wall it covered. As one stood and watched, the wall would slowly expand and contract, just like it was breathing! Some people loved it, others found it very creepy!”
tripwolf: What do you think are the three most important things that are not found in the guide-books, but that you make sure to share with the tourists?
Zoya: “It’s hard to name just three non-tourist-must-sees: We show travelers rather than just talk about it. I would say, go to the banks of the Moscow River, visit the Tsaritsyno and Kolomenskoye, and be sure to pause and take a look at Moscow from various bridges to take in the unforgettable landscape. Seeing is believing. And otherwise, just come to Moscow and we’ll show you everything!”
Anne Chabot: “Markets are the best thing to explore in Marseilles – and there are so many. Not to be missed is the Marché du Soleil, near the Porte d’Aix. It feels as if one could be in Morocco or Tunisia. Marseilles has many nice beaches, I recommend to visit The Bank in Goudes. The bus ride there takes about 45 minutes, and trust me: It’s worth it!”
Anne Macvean: “It really depends on what they are interested in! If they can give me an idea of the sorts of things they like to see, it enables me to give them a more personally suited orientation of Melbourne. Even if they can’t articulate their preference, I can judge by their reactions as to what places they are more or less interested in, and tailor the orientation from there.
Places many visitors enjoy seeing, as well as the three on my list above, are the Queen Victoria Market, the State Library of Victoria, our arcades and laneways, the graffiti art areas (where internationally famous artists come and leave their work for others to see for free), some of our famous cake and chocolate shops, the parks and gardens and sometimes when we’re lucky – black swans on the Yarra River.”
tripwolf: Are you still in contact with people whom you have welcomed?
Zoya: “Yes, of course! Thanks to modern technology, we communicate via Facebook, Twitter or Skype. Our new friends are waiting for us to come to their countries.”
Anne Chabot: “Yes, I’m still in touch with a friend from Sweden on Facebook. She is a well known blogger there and has won a tour of the best beaches in the world! One of her stops was in Marseilles and the French Riviera. I think she has a really great job!”
Check out the Global Greeter Network, with links to all Greeter cities – If you’re interested to be a Greeter in your city, or meet a Greeter on your travels, you’ll find all the information here. Or one takes a look at the Greeter network in Moscow, Marseilles, and Melbourne.