I live in a tourist city. Hell, I’ve always lived in tourist cities – Boston, Chicago, now San Francisco. In Boston, tourist season started in mid-May – the T stations would be busier in the middle of the day, stuffed with sandal-wearing backpack-toting, Fodors-guide reading people from all over.
“Excuse me,” they would say to me, while I was walking back to work from lunch or jogging along the Charles River. “Where is the Freedom Trail?”
“Which way is Bunker Hill?
“How do I get to the Swan Boats?”
It’s little different now, except that in San Francisco high tourist season is when our weather is famously at its worst. Tourists start off in sandals at Fisherman’s Wharf, and by the time they’ve made it up to my area in the Haight, they’re sporting leg warmers, Alcatraz Psycho Ward Inpatient knit hats, and enormous I Heart SF hoodies. Every few weeks I’ll be walking back home and see a couple of folks on the corner of Haight and Divisadero, looking quizzically from map to street to map again. Most of them stop and ask me where Haight and Ashbury is.
I always, always tell them. Sometimes even if they don’t ask. I walk right up and ask “hey, can I help you guys find something?”
Nine times out of ten, I get a relieved face, a smile, and a grateful question. The other time I get a “no, we’re OK.”
And then I get to feel great, happy, having made someone’s day a little less stressful. It’s a simple formula:
1) Ask if you can help
2) Be nice
3) Be honest
That’s it. If you see someone fumbling with a map, or intently looking at a phone, then street signs, then a phone again, ask if you can help find something. Be friendly. Smile.
If people are taking selfies with a landmark in the background, ask if you can photo them.
And when a sixty-five-year-old German ex-firefighter asks you for a good place nearby to get a beer, send him to your favorite spot – not something you think he might like because it’s quiet and inoffensive. I hate to say “keep it real.”
But keep it real.