Every year, dozens of The Chicago Greeters introduce thousands of visitors from all over the world to the wonders of the city. The visitors, in turn, share their views on everything from travel to dining to their reason for coming to Chicago from places as familiar as Milwaukee and as exotic as Indonesia. Throughout the course of the next several months, we'll be taking a look at the Chicago Greeter Program and the stories its greeters have to share.
By: Janice Rosenberg
Having been a Greeter for nearly nine years, I'm here to say that there is enjoyment and learning on both sides of the equation.
In 2013 fully 60 percent of all Greeter visits involved international visitors. The top five countries represented were Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and France. Many asked to be paired with Greeters who spoke their languages, including Spanish, French, German and Mandarin. With 23 percent of Greeters speaking more than one language, meeting those needs was fairly easy.
But so much for statistics. Meeting guests from other countries makes all of us take notice.
A few weeks ago I hosted a group of Italian visitors on an InstaGreeter tour of the Loop. InstaGreeters, stationed in the Cultural Center Visitor Information Center on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, take groups on casual, hour-long rambles within a few blocks of Michigan Avenue.
No scripts here. Each InstaGreeter's tour is personalized with facts, observations and anecdotes meant to spark interaction. Chicago history, architecture and public art are all on the agenda.
As I usually do, I first showed off the Cultural Center to a group I had visiting from Italy, whose English was excellent. They admired the Tiffany dome and located tiled quotes in their language. Outside, on the corner of Washington and Wabash, we stopped to take a gander at Trump Tower, the El tracks and Macy's.
Pointing at the letters above the iconic Marshall Field & Company sign (located on what is now Macy's wall), one woman asked, "What is that word? Wabash? It doesn't look like English."
I explained as best I could its Native American origin, referencing similarly named places from Seattle to Massachusetts.
We moved on, but later I considered other Chicago names, borrowed from the world, realizing once again how special our city is for its ethnic diversity. Perhaps that's why international visitors feel so much at home. Wherever they're from, they're rarely the first of their nation to walk our streets.