There’s one in every crowd: A Compendium of Crowds, from Know It Alls to Laggers

There’s one in every crowd.

Yes, you know who I’m talking about: that person sitting off the second aisle, five rows from the front, who insists on asking a lengthy and involved question just as the audience’s energy is flagging.  We’re collectively shifting in our seats, imagining the cup of tea we’ll have when we get home or mentally checking off our ‘to-do’ list for the following day, when the evening’s post-event discussion is rudely extended by The Know It All.   The Know It All will always ask a question to which he already knows the answer.  In fact, the Know It All is not asking a question at all, but rambling his way through an exposition on the impact the subject to hand has had on his early development, political outlook, mother’s state of mind and everything in between (Jung Chang, in conversation about Mao: the unknown story, Queen Elizabeth Hall, circa 2008 – seared onto my fragile memory as violence was almost involved. This Know It All teetered dangerously close to You Will Come to Know It All Too territory (aka Extremist), which is a step beyond the boundaries of this Compendium of a Crowd)).  The Know It All wants you to know that not only does he know more on the topic than you, fellow event-goer, he also knows more than the famous author/actor/Nobel prize winner at the front of the room.

He’s not the only individual in a crowd to interrupt that contented buzz that settles over you during or following a great debate, film or guided walk.  Having just completed a whirlwind tour of some of London’s iconic buildings this weekend, at the annual London Open House event, I encountered no less than seven distinct characters who are apt to upset the fragile harmony of a crowd.

The Know it All: Out in force on the weekend, the Know It All most representative of this category was to be found at a private modernist residence in north-west London on a Sunday afternoon.

Know It All (KIA): “Aha, I see that your house was designed by X.  Is X Jnr his son?”

Patient homeowner: “Oh, I don’t know about X Jnr, are you an architect?”

KIA: “No, no, but I worked with X Jnr, in an architect firm he co-owned, and he is most certainly X’s son.”

Patient homeowner: “Well really?  Perhaps you could share your expertise on modernist design as we walk through the house?  I really only know what I’ve picked up from living here.”

KIA: “No, no, you’ve lived in this house for 20 years, I’m sure you have something to teach me about it.”

I wanted to stamp on this Know It All’s foot (but us Tut-tutting Eye Rollers never engage in such energetic signs of disapproval).

The Modernist House: a site of contention between home-owner and Know It All

Tut-tutting Eye Rollers: Tut-tutting Eye Rollers are purists.  They are in attendance at an event solely for the experience of being enlightened by an expert and raising their own level of intelligence and intellect.  Tut-tutting Eye Rollers strive (usually in vain) to create the illusion that they are the only ones in attendance.  Of course they are not, and a great deal of tut-tutting and eye-rolling is witnessed when the illusion of their solitary dalliance with the speaker / guest / expert is interrupted by lesser mortals who dare to ask a question or block the view.  Tut-tutting Eye Rollers fly solo; they have no tolerance for friends who might excitedly elbow them in the ribs during the high points, or whisper a second-rate piece of analysis whilst a particularly tricky idea is expounded.

The Laggers: These fellows are touring at their own pace. Always travelling in small groups, they can usually be found locked in a room the rest of the tour group moved on from 15 minutes before.   The Laggers are often waylaid by the need to photograph a courtyard from multiple angles, which includes executing the complicated bent-on-one-knee-arms-outstretched manoeuvre that allows for the capture of low-level wall tiling behind a fountain.  They take most interest in their own private conversation, rather than appreciating what the tour guide / keynote speaker has to say.

The fountain: a catalyst for lagging

The Non-English Speaking Tourist: The Non-English Speaking Tourist enthusiastically joins a tour group despite the lack of translation facilities – because, after all, there’s sure to be plenty to look at.  Problems arise when the Non-English Speaking Tourist begins to exhibit signs of disorientation: facing backwards whilst everyone else is directed to observe the magnificent 1950s mosaic on the opposite wall; laughing too loud and too late at a joke they think may have been made; or tripping on a cable in a studio after missing the tour guide’s verbal warning.  When travelling in groups, there is always one Non-English Speaking Tourist with just enough English to offer up shoddy translations to the others.  Despite nodding their assent, it is not possible that a Non-English Speaking Tourist group understands “BBC Worldwide Higgle Piggle sustainable heating and pride”, because with my English degree I struggle to figure it out myself.

Mosaic Wall: Disorienting to Non-English Speaking Tourists; a drag for The Wayward Child

The First In Line: The First In Line is the one person in a crowd whom we all dislike, because it’s inevitable that at some point during a tour, we’ll all be knocked out of her way.  First In Line always has to be up-front and up-close-and-personal with the tour leader.  This doesn’t guarantee that she’s always first though.  On the contrary, she often finds herself in the middle of the group, after an object absorbs her interest for a moment too long.  The moment of recognition that she is lagging behind is clearly evident: she halts abruptly, sniffs the air to assess her position in the pack, then bounds forward to re-take prime position.

The Wayward Child: Children can be hard to tolerate when you don’t have any of your own.  The Wayward Child makes the task all that more difficult (especially so if you identify as a Tut-tutting Eye Roller or Cheerleader Tour Guide).  The Wayward Child didn’t want to leave his X-Box today.  He doesn’t like his mother patting his head and smiling when he’s calling her a cow.  He doesn’t have to pose for a photo between three naff white cubes with three naff black letters on them (but he does, with a wonderfully sullen face that he is going to regret on his 21st birthday).  The Wayward Child attempts escape at any opportunity.  When captured, he whines at an uncomfortable frequency.  He may also slap his parents, but, should this happen, they will smile at others in the crowd and excuse it with a little shoulder shrug.

Naff signage: perfect for posy photographs if you're over the age of forty.

The Cheerleader Tour Guide: Not so much a part of the crowd as a presence that swarms around it, the Tour Guide uses well-practiced hand swooshing and soothing clucking noises to keep her charges on the move.  That is, unless she’s a Cheerleader Tour Guide.  This extreme form of tour guiding demands crowd participation: we must guess the end of her sentences in loudly-shouted unison, whoop and holler on cue as she unveils an especially exciting piece of design, and lean in theatrically close as she whispers third-hand secrets about demanding celebrities.  The Cheerleader Tour Guide will guide another five or six crowds through the venue on the day of your visit.  She will be unfailingly enthusiastic and continue to tell her jokes as though for the first time.  She is being paid minimum wage but is still HAVING THE GOOD TIME that her bellowing question demands of her charges.

2 Responses to “There’s one in every crowd: A Compendium of Crowds, from Know It Alls to Laggers”
  1. Joe says:

    Have you also comes across the obsequious “Friend-of-the-Owner” guide? Usually elderly and working a stately home of some kind, they stress their close relationship with the “family,” name-drop like crazy and say things like, “Lady x polishes every single item of Georgian cutlery… with her own hands…every week.” I once witnessed one of these in such a frenzy of intimate association with the home’s owners, that when she said, “Does anyone have any questions?” a friend asked her, “Yes, I’ve got one. Do you know how much they paid for the place?”

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