Museum tour stereotypes at The Met

What is the first thing you should do when moving to a new city in a new country? Is it:

  1. Get apartment hunting straight away, everything is easier once you have a permanent roof over your head.
  2. Sort out your new banking. Nobody wants those international charges nailing them each time you need to grab a bite to eat.
  3. Research all possible future job opportunities. You can’t work here yet, but it’s good to be as prepared as possible, should work permits permit work.
  4. Throw caution to the wind, ignore all the ‘rules’ that mean you’re living life successfully, and buy memberships to The Met.

Yup! I was sure you’d agree. Number 4 it was.

The first weekend here we got ourselves signed up and we’ve already visited three times (once to the Cloisters, which is their medieval European collection uptown), so we’re pretty confident it was worth it. Technically The Met is a "suggested donation" place, so could be free every time if you have the guts to brazenly ignore the very aggressive "suggestion" otherwise. We do not.

Last week we got an email invitation to a "members only" tour. Now, we’re not really "tour" sort of people as we like to wander at our own pace and politely keep ourselves to ourselves. We don’t take museums too seriously. Don’t get me wrong, we love museums and are fascinated by most of their contents, buuuuuuut will certainly let ourselves giggle when warranted.

The Tour

  • The tour guide - Usually tours have a tour guide who thinks they’re funny, but actually it is slightly akin to dad humour. Our tour guide reminded us of Edna ‘E’ Mode from The Incredibles, so that made her immediately more entertaining (either that, or our appreciation of Dad humour is ripening with age). She showed us some of the hidden gems of the museum and at one point we found ourselves (all 24 of us) crammed into a teeny tiny room… I was at the back… and I’m small. That gem remained hidden. 

The best thing about this tour guide, is that she finished the tour to applause and then offered to show us round a bit more. The one draw back was the audience participation… at each exhibit she’d ask a question to which none of us seemed quite sure if the answer was really obvious or some nuanced perspective, leaving the kind of polite silence I thought was quintessentially and exclusively British.

  • Eager beavers - We all know the type and we probably have a friend that we’re very fond of, but are always slightly nervous to take places, because they are so eager that they’ll ask dozens of questions. In some of the exhibits I’d already made mental notes to go back at a later date to find out more, however, the eager beavers in residence felt the burning desire to ask questions immediately. In most cases it was OK, and I was glad to find out more, BUT Mr. Punch Bowl…?! When you're given the go ahead to leave a room in which you're all like a can of sweaty sardines, don’t be the guy who pushes through the crowd saying "I just need to see the punch bowl", because I promise you, it will still be there after the tour has ended. It won’t miraculously grow legs and go in search of other exhibits.

The punch bowl can wait.

  • Know-it-all - there is usually at least one know-it-all in any museum tour who wants to add to everything the tour guide says. Each time we had a know-it-all interjection it’s as though you could see the tour guide’s inner monologue saying "you’ve trained for this, smile, nod and correct their point so the tour doesn’t think you’re weak". As awkward as I found these interjections, I did learn a lot… so there is something to be said for the know-it-all.
  • Young, attractive, suited and booted - There was a couple who were both beautifully turned out; the chap was in sleek, after work, attire - suit sans tie (Ed estimated a product of the financial district), and the girl was in an elegant maxi dress with beautiful detailing on the back and a faceful of inappropriate cleavage at the front. They both looked relatively bored through out, which seemed strange on a tour they’d elected to go on... The main thing about these two was that I wanted to give all the men of the group a round of applause for keeping their eyes on the museum exhibits.
  • Aggressively keen front row seekers - How do they do it? No matter what, I always end up in the back of a crowd. Someone pushes past me and says excuse me, and since they asked politely I gladly let them pass and end up staring at their back for most of the exhibit. At least I can blame myself for that one. However, the people who trod on my toes at least 3 times in 50 minutes… impressive.
  • Peppy warm Americans - This made me smile the whole way through. If you find these stereotypes, and yes they are stereotypes, in a museum tour in the UK you’re bound to get the cold shoulder. However, I find that I am a fan of the American museum tour. It was a warm, kind atmosphere that smiled, nodded encouragingly and laughed on cue. The applause was genuine and when the tour guide offered more, one lovely woman said ‘lead the way, we’ll gladly follow!’ And we did.

Oddly enough we didn’t see any strange Brits who were keeping to themselves, polite to the point of not being able to see anything and not asking any questions for fear of holding the group up… I think we have a lot to learn about the American tour experience.