When tour guides get together they don't talk about sights. They talk about the ebb and flow of world history: "I knew the Shah was going to fall. All the Iranians I gave tours to told me that. I knew Indira Gandhi was going to fall," Irma Greenspoon explained. "The last Russian group I guided; well, I spotted the KGB man, and after the tour he gave me a present of perfume. I gave him a kiss, and everyone on the bus cheered."
Greenspoon was the hostess for the annual picnic of the Guide Service of Washington, Inc. Some 50 of the 130 licensed guides, almost all women, came to eat, chat and give a reporter a tour of the quirks of tourists.
"Germans especially want to see the Kennedy grave, but every week some of the tourists tell me, 'Did you know that Kennedy is still alive and that there is a dummy buried there?'"
Alice Forbes, a German-speaking guide, rolled her eyes to the heavens. "I've been showing Germans around for 12 years. As the mark goes up, they get to feeling more superior."
These women are gracious. They don't argue. They take the tourists where they want to go. But this was their picnic, so, more dirt:
"I took some Saudi Air Force cadets around," the hostess Irma Greenspoon said, "and they told me that 98 percent of the United States Senate was Jewish!"
"Latin tourists," Claudia Condit told on her provenance, "ask about shopping first of all. I tell them to go to New York. They also ask about night life. I tell them people in Washington have a lot of private parties." n
"Indians are the worst," many said in a rush to consensus, "They have no conception of time, they're bossy, they always travel with little kids and old people. They promise you a present and never give you one."
"But," another guide interjects, "they are very caring for their elderly. One son would check all the lines so his father wouldn't have to stand up a long time."
Genie Hindall is now president of the Guide Service. And don't mistake this volunteer do-gooding.
"It's more than a full-time job," Hindall explained. "Last year we guided 7,000 groups, almost half were foreigners. The week of Cherry Blossoms we give 148 tours.
"Our foreign business is rising as the dollar declines, and actually what many of the foreigners want to do is shop. Someone at GW called me up and asked if I thought tours could be organized to American just for shopping. I think they could. We just handled 300 groups of John Deere International executives, and they all wanted to shop. My guess is each member of the group bought on the average $250 worth of goods, things like golf clubs, down jackets, good jewelry."
The guides, bless them, do not emphasize the materialistic.
"I feel very bad if I don't get to show my group the Library of Congress," said Nellie Kerr, the senior guide who confesses to living to research everything she can about Washington. "And the marble at the Supreme Court is so beautiful. And did you know that the horse General Scott is riding at Scott Circle had a sex change?" (In the original sculpture the general's horse was a mare, but was changed after some complaints from the general's supporters.)