In order to get up-to-date information, I email all the tourist offices mentioned in the guides and kindly ask them to send me their address, phone number, URL and opening hours. Things like that. I leave spaces for them to fill in the details and all they have to do is to return the email to me. Since I need to update information about hotels, restaurants, museums, etc., I also ask them if they would be so kind as to send me any brochures they might have, because, although everyone has a website these days, I’m not paid by the hour and don’t have the time to trawl the Internet and search through hundreds of sites that are all organised differently (some websites are very good at hiding info). Most of the tourist offices understand my predicament and send me loads of literature; I plunder it and write down anything that’s new, before phoning most places to find out what is still missing. There’s always something, but at least it cuts down on expensive phone calls abroad (they’re not paid for by my employers).
I am currently updating the guide to Provence. Last week I emailed the tourist offices and, as usual, mostly got wonderfully courteous responses from them, and a whole pile of brochures is at this very moment sitting my floor, ready to be taken apart by me.
I said ‘mostly’ because this is what I received a couple of days ago from the tourist office of a very very small place near Arles. The person (a woman) filled in (badly) the blank spaces in my email and added this – in bold red type – at the bottom of it, before returning it to me:
Un peu de perspicacité, de curiosité, de créativité, surtout si il s'agit d'enrichir sa culture personnelle et rendre son travail plus intéressant me semble indispensable lorsque l'on travaille dans le tourisme. A quoi servirait tous ces outils fantastiques mit à notre disposition (le dialogue, le téléphone, internet etc. …) si non à l'enrichissement personnel, à la communication avec l'autre, avec le monde ENTIER.It translates like this:
Il est bien plus facile de suivre la culture du pré-mâché, du pré-pensé et suivre le chemin de l'uniformité en recopiant les informations que j’aurais pris le temps de vous transmettre, car mon temps n'est jamais compté.
Avec toute mon compassion
A little perspicacity, a little curiosity, a little creativity, especially if it means enriching one’s personal cultural knowledge and making one’s work more interesting, seems to me to be essential when one is working in the tourist industry. What would be the use of all those fantastic tools we have at our disposal (face-to-face communication, telephone, the Internet, etc.) if not for one’s personal development, for communicating with others, with the WHOLE world.My jaw dropped when I read it. I was so shocked. I felt as if I’d been slapped. That woman doesn’t know me. How dare she assume that I’m some ignorant, lazy and narrow-minded person who is scared of new technology! How can anyone be so rude and patronizing?
It is much easier to settle, like everyone else these days, for what is pre-digested, pre-thought, and follow the path of uniformity by copying down information that I would take the time to send you, since my time is never taken into account.
With all my sympathy
I wrote back to her and told her who I was and what my qualifications were. She apologized. She said ‘culture’ is what matters to her most of all; she deplores the lack of it these days and she thought I was one of those people who didn’t have any. What, in my well-phrased email (in French, I hasten to add), with its correct spelling, grammar and punctuation, made her think that, I don’t know (especially since her email contains no less than six grammatical errors). Furthermore, the whole point about what I’m doing is that not much ‘culture’ is required: all you need is to be able to speak and write the language properly and be very thorough. I am not ‘writing’ the guide; I am just ‘updating’ it. Keep also in mind that it is November and that the village in question is most probably devoid of tourists at the moment so the woman is unlikely to be overworked and short of time. Anyway, she works in a tourist office, what else is she supposed to do but supply information about her village?
I’m sure she would never have said any of that to my face. Although she signed her name, she must have felt protected by the anonymity afforded by the Internet. That was what allowed her to behave in such an outrageous way.