I wish someone would have told me how important it is to have humility when people don’t like you or your work. When 99.9% of the people you meet think you’re the greatest thing since the croissant, it’s hard when you do come across that one person who hates your tour, or doesn’t your like voice or doesn’t get your humor. It’s important to remember that you can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time!
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Reb Rudel.
Karen Reb Rudel is an American ex-pat who has been in Paris for 22 years. In that time she has found a French husband, had an adorable son with him, and opened her own company. Today, she runs a walking tour company that she pivoted to virtual tourism in the face of the pandemic.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Sure! I’m from Johnstown, Pennsylvania. I’m the youngest of 5 — I was the one who was not invited but very welcome, from what my mom said. I had a lovely childhood, I played the flute, I sang, I was in theatre. I did a lot with foster grandparents and I was very involved in my Jewish Youth Group, BBYO. I went to Girl Scout Camp…you know, the regular, small-town America stuff when you’re a Jewish girl from a town with not many Jewish people. My parents definitely tried to instill everything that they could in my life to make sure that I was a good Jewish girl. I went to school in Philadelphia and studied music and theatre at Temple University.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
This quote is relevant to my job as well as in my personal life. For example, if you have friends over and you make a great dinner and they love it, you want to hope that when you go to their house, they’ll make something great and you’ll maybe learn a new recipe. And, I think this applies to every aspect of life. Not just food, but any time that anyone hands me a book and says this might be a book you’d enjoy then you hope that someday you can hand a book to somebody and give them the same pleasure.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
In my years as a tour guide and as the owner of my walking tour company, I’ve read hundreds of books about Paris. I stopped counting after 800 or so books!
But, one, in particular, did stay with me. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay is a Holocaust story and one that had a huge impact on my life as a mom with one child. I can’t imagine what it would have been like for my kid and so happy I’m not in that situation. I give a Jewish walking tour and when I was writing the script for it I couldn’t help but think of the story in Sarah’s Key. To try to understand what the children must have been going through and what their parents must have felt…as a mother the story rang home even more true.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I was running a walking tour company in Paris. A pretty successful, as far as I was concerned, walking tour company that had been listed on TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Things to Do in Paris for the past 10 years. I made the decision early on to hire only actors and teachers who could have a great rapport with all kinds of people. I preferred to hire actors because I knew that they would be great at memorizing and animating an audience, and any good teacher is also able to do the same thing. In later years I also started hiring professional tour guides.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
Well, I had a great friend who had a vision of me turning all of these tours virtual, it was just such a waste to not be doing this. I did try to teach English, as I have been doing on and off for 20 years as a little side job, but since I don’t have a teaching degree it proved difficult to find an actual teaching position in France. I found that it was actually easier to use the knowledge that I had and all of the years of experience as being a tour guide to make this giant pivot to doing virtual tourism.
And so I got my very first computer in the month of June, 3 months after the pandemic started. I had never even heard of PowerPoint and I had no idea how to turn on my own computer. My one great, dear friend with the vision sat with me for many hours daily and literally taught me how to do everything.
I used the marketing skills that I had and counted a lot on my entourage and reached out to people, did a lot of beta testing with a lot of friends and family to see what they thought of this new idea and how to expand and improve on it. The first tour I gave was of the small village in Paris called Montmartre. The tour was made up of about 20 PowerPoint slides. Now, every tour of mine has 120–150 slides with music and videos, and I’m still always trying to improve and make my virtual tours the best that they can be.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
I’m not sure if I had a specific “Aha moment,” but since Europe shut down their borders and no one was traveling I started to notice other tour companies begin to try to dip their hands into virtual tourism.
I didn’t really feel (because of Covid) that I could go out into Paris with a selfie stick and my iPhone and try to show people things because I didn’t feel like this was the best way to rethink my walking tours. With the PowerPoint presentations, I’m able to use a lot of vintage nostalgia, old-timey then and now shots, and show you things that I could never show you before. Before I used to stand outside the Moulin Rouge and try to vocally paint a picture of what it looked like years ago. Now, I’m able to actually show you and animate my speech with vintage footage of the can-can dancers inside the cabaret!
How are things going with this new initiative?
Better than I ever could have expected! I was hired by My Jewish Learning after sending out hundreds of cold emails and never thought that it was going to end up as great as it did. We broke Zoom and had over 1000 screens log in! I was named in Jewish Insider’s “Who’s watching what” list that week, and I’ve gotten tons and tons of synagogues signed up to tour with me. I’ve also welcomed Hadassah groups and a lot of fabulous private parties.
I try to bring Paris to tourists in the best fashion that I can. I have people on my tours dress up, there’s a show and tell where I ask you to show something French that you have in your house whether you have French dressing or mustard, or a painting that you bought in Paris. I try to interact with everyone on the tour and we always have a nice Q&A after where everybody gets to ask questions about Paris and chat about a story they may have experienced in the French capital.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I already mentioned that one of my dear friends had a vision and pushed me towards virtual tourism, and I can never express how grateful I am to her! The fabulous Dory Frain, who is studying to be a nurse practitioner, had a vision and she literally walked me through the steps, spending hours and hours teaching me how to use my computer.
I can’t stress enough that I am no millennial and this stuff just doesn’t come naturally to me. Before Dory helped me, I had no idea what the iCloud was, where to even find it. I figured it must be an actual cloud! Dory showed me everything that I needed to know and she had the patience to (virtually) hold my hand along the way.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
It’s hard to choose one, so I’ll mention two incredible stories. First, recently, I received an email from someone who was on a virtual experience with me. Her friend was also on the tour and she didn’t have her video or sound on which is why I didn’t know anything bad had happened, but she actually had a stroke while on the tour and collapsed. I’ll preface what happens next with that the paramedics were able to assist her and she is recovering comfortably at home now, but she told her friend that the sound of my voice was really calming for her as she waited for the ambulance to show up. It was a real shock to me and I’m glad she’s okay now!
Another story that I have to mention happened when I was doing my Jewish Virtual Experience for an independent living home. On the tour, we talk about the French Resistance movement and how it saved countless Jewish children’s lives during WWII. At the end of the tour, one of the men said, “Thank you so much I was one of those saved children.” I still get choked up whenever I think about it, it’s so incredible to be able to connect with people who I would have never normally met.
After that experience, I’ve realized that even when tourism comes back, this is something that I can continue to do. Reaching people who may never be able to come to Paris, or travel again, whether it’s because of age or finance or fear or physical disabilities. This is a job that I can have until I die, sitting here talking about Paris.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- I wish someone would have told me that current events can have a profound effect on what you do for work. In 2015, there were several terrorist attacks in Paris. When you’re working in tourism in the most visited city in the world, a terrorist attack is the furthest thing from your mind. And then it happens and you need to adapt because all of a sudden people are afraid to come to your city. Not to mention there was an attack on a Kosher supermarket, and my Jewish history tour is one of my most popular. Not only was I afraid for my own safety and that of my son, a lot of my Jewish clients felt uncomfortable thinking about coming back to Paris. This was obviously really unexpected and in some ways, I had to pivot my company then as well.
- I wish I had known how to run a company in my own language before I started to try to run a company in a language that I don’t even speak very well. France is known around the world for its red tape and believe me, it’s true! Attempting to understand all of the administrative paperwork has definitely been a challenge. I’ve lived in France for 22 years and while I do understand and speak French, all of the admin can be super complicated.
- Also as a woman running her own organization, I wish someone would have told me how hard it was to be a mom while your baby is growing as well as your company. Because you want to love them both and nurture them both, but one of them is actually breathing and needs food (laughs).
- I wish someone would have told me how difficult it can be to be in charge of a team of employees. I was kind of a born leader and I always had people helping me when I managed my band and when I was a hippie and was making soup and candles, I had people chopping vegetables, you know that was easy. But, actually having people work for you and dealing with the dynamics of, if something happens with a client and it’s not my fault, it’s my employee’s fault, and having to take the blame, and having to stand up for people who work for you and know that no matter what happens, it’s going to land on my shoulders even though it wasn’t my fault. Being able to realize that I have to take the blame.! Nobody really thinks of that when you start out.
- I wish someone would have told me how important it is to have humility when people don’t like you or your work. When 99.9% of the people you meet think you’re the greatest thing since the croissant, it’s hard when you do come across that one person who hates your tour, or doesn’t your like voice or doesn’t get your humor. It’s important to remember that you can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time!
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Not watching the news! But seriously, I’ve stopped watching the news unless the President of France is speaking. I’ve been trying to really step away from the news cycle. I also try to walk outside and discover my new neighborhood because I actually had to move because of Covid. I also try to read, listen to music, and spend a lot of time with my kid and my dog. I’ve been trying to make a “new normal” for my family. I also try to do yoga and Zumba via Zoom!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I could inspire a movement, it would have to be to educate people about things that are out of their comfort zone. Learning how to try to not be afraid of something new can be terrifying. Take someone like me, who isn’t a millennial, and all of a sudden had to essentially become a phoenix and rise out of the ashes and reinvent myself and do something that I’m totally uncomfortable with…that was scary. I would love to be able to help others in the same situation.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
There are so many that I could mention but Mayim Bialik! She’s a Jewish comedian, I would love to have a vegan lunch with her.
How can our readers follow you online?
Via my website which is https://sightseekersdelight.com/, on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sightseekersdelight/, and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SightSeekersDelightParis, https://www.facebook.com/sightseekersdelight
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!