The next time you travel to an international destination, wouldn’t it be fun to meet a local who could speak your language and would take you on a themed walking tour, telling you all about their beloved home town?
When I stumbled upon the International Greeters Association website during our recent trip to France, I immediately loved the idea. When I found out the service is free, I loved it even more.
The first chapter of what would become IGA was founded in New York in 1992 by Lynn Brook. According to Big Apple Greeter: “On her extensive travels around the world, Lynn realized that almost everyone she met wanted to visit New York City, but some were a little intimidated. She wanted the world to know New York City as she did: a great big small town with diverse neighborhoods, mom-and-pop stores, fun places to dine, and friendly residents who go out of their way to help a visitor feel welcome.”
The concept was a resounding success and the organization now covers 123 destinations, with over 3500 greeters.
The IGA has the following core values:
1) Greeters are volunteers.
2) Greeters welcome individuals and may serve small groups of up to six people.
3) Meeting a Greeter is free of charge.*
4) All visitors and volunteers are welcomed without discrimination.
5) Greeter organizations support sustainable tourism. Programs respect natural and man-made environments, bringing both cultural and economic enrichment to local communities. Programs aim for a lasting positive image of each destination.
6) Greeter organizations create a mutually enriching opportunity for cultural exchange; create links between people in creating a better world.
I connected through the Loire Valley Greeters site, where they feature hosts from six Loire cities, including Amboise, where we were staying. I was also able to specify my language of choice (English, because I’m an ignorant North American monolinguist) and a theme (history). Other themes included literature, architecture, local products, nature, and shopping. Once all those filters were applied, the site offered me several greeter options. I picked a friendly face and sent through my request for a date/time.
I quickly received a confirmation and a contact for our greeter, Charles.
Charles was a delight, full of enthusiasm and knowledge about the history of Amboise. He was well prepared for our visit and even carried a binder with visual materials to illustrate some of his stories. Together, we wandered through the old streets, with Charles chatting about specific houses or the general history of the area. We peered into courtyards and poked around in one of the lovely old churches, Église Saint-Denis. We had the opportunity to ask about things that had puzzled us. It was really like a stroll with your favourite teacher.
We were thrilled to discover this organization and to visit with Charles. My only regret is that I didn’t know about it earlier in our trip so that we could have met greeters in some of the other towns we visited.
*I was contacted later by the Amboise group to solicit feedback and to request a donation. I was happy to provide both, but it’s your option whether to donate.