From the archives (originally posted on July 3, 2006):
On a better day, Jeff had a group that was inspiring--intelligent, attentive, and curious. They sat on the steps at Federal Hall, and as he spoke, they leaned forward, listening, nodding, absorbing, and so he continued. For thirty minutes, he spoke of the early days of the republic, of Washington and Hamilton and Jefferson and Burr, of the Bill of Rights, of the transfer of the capital, of the John Peter Zenger trial and the freedom of press, of the New York Stock Exchange, of J.P. Morgan and the birth of the corporation. At the end of a productive, eloquent session like this, the teacher usually comes up to you and, knowing how difficult it can be to keep the attention of seventh and eighth-graders (a.k.a., ritalin monkeys), pays you a compliment which you return ("They were very well-prepared.") and the two of you share a moment of satisfaction. As this group stood, the teacher approached, put his hands on Jeff's shoulders and whispered: "Your fly's open."
In certain parts of the country, the word haggle has a colorful idiom: to Jew them down...as in "When we go to Chinatown, can we Jew them down?" Each guide approaches this question differently. Some, especially the Jewish ones, are very direct. I have three techniques. One is to pretend I've never heard the phrase in my life and ask them to repeat it several times, growing more and more appalled as if I just can't believe a human being in this day and age would use such a phrase. The second is to give a brief lecture on the Jewish philanthropy that supports so many of our city's cultural institutions. And the third (a two-pronged trick) is to point out that it's a bit ironic to imply Jewish people are cheap when, at the end of the tour, it's usually the WASP groups who neglect to tip their guide.
This spring, Travis faced a dilemma--to correct or not to correct--when one of his people asked, "What's the best way to chew them down?"
And from Tessa: Having just pointed out St. Paul's, the oldest building in continuous use in Manhattan, she gave the chapel's opening date of 1766.
Inquisitive Boy: Whoa! Whoa! 1766? When was the Revolutionary War?
Inquisitive Boy: Okaaaaay. And when did Columbus come over?
Inquisitive Boy: Wait a minute. Wait...a...minute! What happened between 1492 and 1776?