In the space of 3 days I was guided by these little phonelike devices no less than 5 times, round 1 art gallery, 2 museums, 1 palace and 1 Roman theatre. These experiences have sprouted some fairly strong opinions in me which I would like to air.
But first of all, just to give you some background and for the benefit those of you who may have yet to experience the delights of an audioguided tour... let me walk you through one.
You enter your historical sit/museum/art gallery of choice, past the beeping ticket barriers and are presented with an object somewhat similar in form and style to a mobile phone from the mid 1990s or "bricks" as they were affectionately known. Some galleries ask you what language you desire, some assume you want french, some assume you want english... this often presents quite some dilemna for the year abroader in France.
Do you... a. Pick french and listen avidly to every word trying to soak in all the new vocabulary and thus improving my listening skills (why else are we in France after all)? (Plus french people speak quicker so you get round the site in less time)
b. Pick english which requires less brain effort so you are actually able to look around rather than simply squinting in concentration, and really take in the visual as well as the audio.
c. Pick another language entirely, German for example, because you've been desperate to learn a third language ever since you got here, and hope that you might be able to get my ears accustomed to the phonetics of the language, and perhaps even understand/guess the meaning of at least one of two things.
I realise this might not be everyone's dilemna... all I can say is I pity those of you who truly are multilingual...
You move to the first exhibit, and see a metal plate beside it with a number beside it. There appears to be no logic to these numbers, the first one could say anything from 6.1 to 123... but you punch it into your audioguide keypad and listen avidly to the ensuing monologue in your language of choice. (I chose a. once, was given a. once without being asked, and chose b. the other 4 times) You do the same for the next couple of exhibits... but by the third your concentration begins to fade, you walk around looking blankly at exhibits, only half listening to the audioguide. By the time you've punched in the 5th number, you're wondering why on earth you need to know silly facts like the year in which the 17th Pope of Avignon died. By the 7th you're thinking option c. would have been a more educational and enjoyable experience. By the 9th you can't be bothered listening at all. You exchange a meaningful glance with your tour buddy, punch in a number and run past all the numbered exhibits whilst holding the guide to your ear and nodding and frowning in concentration. You finally arrive at the exit where you accidently try to leave without handing your guide in. The devices then start beeping loudly in burglar-alarm point the finger style, till you shamefacedly hand them in at the entrance; often a good 5 minute walk away.
Now I have nothing against the concept of these informative devices. I mean, surely the museum experience should in theory be heightened by that wonderful combination of visual with audio? But tourist authorities of the south-east of France... surely you could have...
- made descriptions concise and relevant in order to hold our attention.
- been selective about the information you wish to communicate... taking into the account the intellectual level of the likely listener (not high)
- used perhaps more of that hierarchical structure you unsuccesfully attempted to put to use on occasion e.g Press 1. for a few lines on why there is a sword in that casket, 1.1 If you wish to know more information about the person who used it, 1.1.1 if you want minute detail on the way in which these types of swords were fabricated, including all materials used and methods involved 126.96.36.199 for the family history, complete with birth and death dates of the person who used the sword.
- at least have picked a less montonous BBC-esque voice.
Here ends the rant
On the plus side, the audioguides in art galleries we went to seem to be actually interesting, concise and informative.
You can always just switch if off when you can't be bothered listening anymore.
NB: If your purpose in visiting a tourist site is just so you can cross it off the haveseenlist, just pick option c. You'll probably learn more.