Mitri the Scribe was once the highest-paid servant of Pharaoh Unas in the 24th century BC. He was the guy you went to if you wanted a temple built, or a letter written, or if you needed a funny idea for a personalized license plate. Now he sits in the middle of a room at the Cairo Museum, unmoving, unblinking…
…but very much alive.
Really, this is a story about a tour guide. I promise I’m going to get back to Mitri, our Lord and Savior whom I met in Egypt, but first I want one of my favorite scribes of all time to illustrate a point I want to make about the delicate relationship between a tour guide and their tourists.
Mark Twain once wrote a whole passage in The Innocents Abroad about how to piss off your tour guide and, as a former tour guide myself, I found it hilarious.
He notes that tour guides get off on the astonishment of tourists and this is true. The most delicious sound in the world to a tour guide is a gasp of admiration from a crowd. We know that gasp is for some marvelous spectacle we’re showing to you but we secretly take a cut of it for ourselves to buff up our own egos.
In one of the funniest travel passages I’ve ever read, Twain and his friend, “The Doctor” (Doctor Who?) decide to stop giving their tour guide the satisfaction.
“Ah, genteelmen, you come wis me! I show you beautiful, O, magnificent bust Christopher Colombo! — splendid, grand, magnificent!”
He brought us before the beautiful bust — for it was beautiful — and sprang back and struck an attitude:
“Ah, look, genteelmen! — beautiful, grand, — bust Christopher Colombo! — beautiful bust, beautiful pedestal!”
The doctor put up his eye-glass — procured for such occasions:
“Ah — what did you say this gentleman’s name was?”
“Christopher Colombo! — ze great Christopher Colombo!”
“Christopher Colombo — the great Christopher Colombo. Well, what did he do?”
“Discover America! — discover America, Oh, ze devil!”
“Discover America. No — that statement will hardly wash. We are just from…