In the past week, some of my coworkers and I have encountered some incredibly rude guests. And it sparked a discussion about how to handle oneself both in the moment and afterwards.
In my experience, there are three types of Horrible Guests.
1) The Entitled Type, whose defining traits include:
* Breaking rules because the rules do not apply to them
* Treating employees of an establishment as though they are of lesser value than Beanie
* Yell a whole lot
|Veruca! Sweetheart! Aaaangel!|
2) The Non-Animal Lover, whose defining traits include:
* Being extremely disappointed that the animals didn't "do tricks" the way they think
* Harassing animals
* Tell stories of them harassing/abandoning/hurting animals with great pride
3) The Disrespectful Know-It-All Who Knows Knothing*, whose defining traits include:
* Being a self-educated expert using resources such as Netflix, Wikipedia, and 12 year
* Constantly (and unknowingly) placing so many feet in their mouth it defies logic as
currently known by human beings in all cultures with exception of the internet
|Touche, Rottenecards.com! Touche!|
I've been oh-so-lucky to have experienced both types of these Horrible Guests in the past few weeks, but I'm sure there are plenty of zoo and aquarium keepers/trainers who are nodding their head vigorously in understanding and agreement as they read these words.
First, I totally get that sometimes people have bad days.
Second, I get that the people who adore the animals can be disappointed if a show wasn't great because the animals were all like BYEEEEE I GOT BETTER THINGS TO DO. Or like one time, a woman was really mad because she wanted to surprise her daughter with a dolphin encounter in the middle of the summer, and couldn't understand how we didn't have any slots open for her (uh, it was the middle of the summer?). She was just upset that her daughter would be disappointed, and luckily we could manage something that gave her what she wanted without asking the animals to do more than they ought to.
And third, I also understand that some guests can be legit angry or disappointed if we let them down or do something inconsistent. This is my preamble that declares that I know and fully accept that there are occasions where a guest's disgruntledness is absolutely worth noting and addressing.
|Everyone's allowed to have a bad day. Unless you're a penguin, then that's probably not a good idea.|
But the Horrible Guests, they are truly horrible. So let's look into some anecdotal evidence for the aforementioned types.
The Entitled Type
|No no, the penguins aren't entitled. But they experienced an Entitled Guest.|
Oh my god. Like where do I start?
I've found someone climbing into the penguin habitat. Like, they had to climb over two fences and doors that say "EMPLOYEES ONLY". When I caught them, they had their phones out ready to do some serious Instagram-ing. While I normally have a lot of patience with people, I word vomited:
Me: Uh, what are you doing?!
Entitled Guest: "Uh, uh....We wanted a picture.
Me: You are not allowed in there. You need to leave.
Entitled Guest: WE DIDN'T KNOW WE WEREN'T ALLOWED IN HERE!
Me: WHAT THE #*(&%# DID YOU THINK THE FENCES AND SIGNS WERE FOR EXACTLY? WELCOME MATS????? SO YOU JUST LIKE, HELP YOURSELVES TO THE PENGUINS' HOME BECAUSE YOU WANT A BLURRY PHOTO WITH A PENGUIN IN MID-BITE AS HE TELLS YOU TO GET OFF HIS LAWN? I HOPE FIRE ANTS EAT YOUR SOUL
Haha, just kidding. What I really said was:
Me: You are not allowed in there! There are signs saying as much. Please get out of the penguin habitat or I'll have to ask you to leave the park.
One of my coworkers recently had what she described as one of the worst encounters with an Entitled Guest in her career of over a decade.
During our dolphin show, we make a pre-show safety announcement, including telling people where they are not allowed to sit or stand. This includes stairwells (for duh, fire safety), and an area in the stadium seating arena where only small children are allowed to sit due to serious visibility issues if adults or older kids sit there. As any place experiences when it's very busy, we have huge amounts of people who are excited to see the dolphin show and want to get the best seat. But of course, we must all follow the rules to ensure the safety and comfort of the people around us. In fact, if people are sitting or standing in places they should not, we will not start the show until we help them find the safe/correct place.
In the middle of the show, my coworker noticed an adult woman sitting in the small-children-only section (after repeated announcements). She politely asked the woman to move, offering to walk her around to find an appropriate seat for her.
Instead of understanding, or even being Civil Pissed, this woman flew off the handle. In the middle of the show, she threw a yelling hissy fit.
"ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW?" she kept asking.
What exactly does one do in a situation like that? How do you keep your calm while a person, who clearly is not following the rules, is not only breaking them but is YELLING at you?
My coworker responded calmly and confidently, explaining the reasons why she could not sit there. One of those reasons was well, you're blocking the view of everyone behind you (a very true statement).
The woman yelled back that no, she knew she wasn't blocking anyone's view, she'd already asked everyone and they were fine with it.
My coworker remained polite but firm in her position, resulting in the woman making a very dramatic exit. Being committed to customer service, my coworker followed the woman down into our gift shop, where she asked if she could do anything to help resolve her disappointment.
"Are you the one who yelled at me to find a new place to sit?" the woman screamed.
"Yes," my coworker said.
"THEN I DON'T WANT TO SEE YOU!! GET OUT OF MY FACE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
So my coworker retrieved the General Manager, and went about the rest of her day.
It continually baffles me how Entitled Guests see the world. In this case, over 150 people were sitting behind this woman, their view very much blocked by the back of her head. It's just how the design of the stadium is, nothing we can do today or even tomorrow to change it. So we do the best we can to ensure everyone has the best view available. But all it takes is one Entitled Guest to decide the rules do not apply to them, because of extremely important extenuating circumstances such as Selfishness get in the way.
The Non-Animal Lover
|Sorry to drag you into this, Steve.|
This continues to be one of my greatest personal challenges:
How to calmly deal with someone who believes animals are present on this planet for their own entertainment or use.
A few days ago after a dolphin show, I noticed our three boys racing around the habitat. Everything about their behavior indicated they were agitated. They were speed swimming, lob-tailing, and posturing in front of a certain set of underwater windows. This is not a common thing to see; most of the time, the dolphins do their own thing, or sometimes even play at the windows with guests peering inside. This is because most people who come through our facility do not do anything to intentionally disturb the dolphins (plus, we have signs everywhere saying as much).
So when I saw our boys acting in this way, I marched downstairs to find out what was going on. As I rounded the corner, I saw what was going on. A man was tapping his sunglasses loudly and rapidly on one of the underwater viewing windows. Over and over and over, and he was smiling and laughing.
|Ohhh how he laughed|
"Sir," I said. "Please do not tap on the glass; it's really agitating the dolphins. In fact, if you just stand here, sometimes the dolphins will come over and look at you. But they definitely won't do that if you're making that sound."
"Oh," he said at first. "They look like they are having fun."
"No, they are fast-swimming and slapping their tails on the surface. Those are signs that they are really agitated. They have excellent hearing, so the tapping on the glass is probably very irritating to them."
To my face, this man said, "OK."
As I walked away, he said a word commonly used in dog breeding to describe a female dog, and the first letter is B and it rhymes with words such as: SANDWICH. Wait, that's too many syllables. But you get the idea.
|Say it, sister.|
I wanted to turn around and grab this dude by his shirt collar and shake him and ask "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!" over and over and over until he fell to his knees, tears streaming down his face as he repented and said, "I AM AN AWFUL PERSON I'M SO SORRY I PUT MY NEEDS FIRST BEFORE THE ANIMALS WILL THEY EVER FORGIVE MEEEE???"
But of course, I couldn't do that. I just stuck around for a while to make sure he didn't tap on the window again (he didn't). Because in that moment, it was way more important that the dolphins didn't have to listen to that terrible sound than it was for me to avenge my name (which is not, by the way, B-rhymes-with-ditch).
But I get Non-Animal Lovers saying weird stuff to me all the time, or read about them in Trip Advisor reviews. Here's a fun list:
1) "I feed dolphins off my boat all the time."
2) "I feed dolphins off my boat all the time. You just tell people you can't do it because you want them to spend money here to feed your dolphins."
3) "How can I get a pet alligator without the police finding out?"
4) "You are a bad animal trainer if you can't make those sea lions do my program."
5) "I want to kiss a sea lion. I paid money, so I should get to do it."
Here is an actual Trip Advisor report I had for one of the places I worked:
6) "We where dissatisfied with the main attraction the dolphin show.What happened to high jumps through hoops , trainers on ladders holding fish in his hand and mouth and a dolphin jumping up and taking the fish? And the sea lions...1 leap...really?? I also had pictures of my children taken with a live seal...sorry I think way over priced for a educational venue that was not that entertaining."
.... like...I don't even know how to respond to that. Uh, a Live Seal? Is this some kind of Saturday Night Live Skit? And what happened to trainers on ladders holding fish? Uh, the turn of the century?
|Tonight on Saturday Night: Josh Hutcherson and Live Seals!|
I understand that not everyone has the same beliefs as I do about animals. If you've followed this blog for even a few weeks, you know that I strongly believe that many animals with brains have emotions and thoughts. But I do appreciate other perspectives, as long as they all fall under the general umbrella of Respect and Compassion for animals. Not Use and Abuse. So when I meet a guest who has that mentality, I really struggle with maintaining appropriate customer service without losing my temper, but also without losing sight of my moral principles.
So what do I do? I lay it on thick. If someone tells me about how they feed dolphins off of their boat and it's clear they don't care that they could be killing that animal, I tell them about how it can cause the dolphins to attack humans. Or how they could wind up with a seriously expensive fine and possibly jail time. And that no, it doesn't matter if a Wildlife Commission officer is there to see it in person; people take photos of people doing awful and illegal things to wildlife, post it to FWC's Facebook page, and FWC nails them.
Or if someone tells me that they are livid because a dolphin didn't do enough jumps in the shows, I tell them that they are not robots or mindless machines. It might fall on deaf ears, but I have had (in some cases) people have their curiosity piqued. They ask more, "What do you mean?" they say. "What do you mean they aren't mindless machines?" And a dialogue begins, and perhaps they leave with a greater respect for the animals they previously thought were there to be used.
The Know-It-All Who Knows Knothing
Okay, from a moral perspective I still stand by my opinion that Non-Animal Lovers are the most frustrating guest. But man, this type of guest is a close, close, close second.
You know the type. The people who came in thinking they are Experts on Everything. The ones who have seen 27 minutes of a "documentary", or watch Animal Planet, and suddenly know everything ever about everything ever. They tell you how your animals look (sad? sick? happy? introspective but hopeful?), that your habitats are "dirty" (because they "forgot" that algae is the scientifically correct term for "seaweed")...or they go a little overboard into asinine complaints and really show their true intellectual prowess, like miscounting how many animals there are, or claiming the dolphins are crying.
Up until now, the previous two types of Horrible Guests primarily use in-person confrontation to assault you with their inanity. They'll dabble in Trip Advisor or written comment cards. But for the most part, they'll say what they want to face-to-face, or to your back as you walk away. But Know-It-Alls use the Internet as their main battlefield, with the occasional "brave" one engaging you in real life.
Here are some actual Trip Advisor reports I found from Know-It-Alls (my response in italics):
"..I must say though that we were disappointed in what they called the Dolphin Show...the trainers just talked about the dolphins, I could've "Googled" that info....the dolphins performed maybe 1 whole minute...maybe!When it was over I couldn't believe it!!! The dolphins are the main attraction...I thought!Oh well, we went, we saw, we won't be back...."
Oh well, you weren't actually at the correct dolphin habitat for the show. You were at another habitat where we don't do dolphin shows. It'd help if you read a map, and if you were confused, asked one of us to walk you to the correct area for the show. Oh well, you won't be back so I won't have to deal with you.
"...The 3 nurse sharks, 2 layed on the bottom and one just floated in the current. They had a "Fish Hole" with just fish. They had 2 harbor seals in "Seal Harbor" like way to be creative guys. The bird sanctuary had 3 birds and the rest were reptiles. They also had 3 alligators and they were all decent size but they all just sat there. Turtle Creek was the best, it was a pool full of turtles found in ponds all over the south east and they all looked the same."Nurse sharks lay on the bottom, it's what they do. By the way, there are three seals in that habitat, but we'll pass your constructive feedback on the habitat name onto the marketing team. Glad to get free advice when we can take it.
I'll have a heart-to-heart with the alligators. We keep telling them they'd get way better Trip Advisor reviews if they lived a more active lifestyle, like if they walked on two feet and road bicycles or something. It's hard to get through to them, but hopefully this review will shock them into reality. Not sure what to do about your problem differentiating between several difference species of turtles, though. Contacts? Bionic eyes? A brain?
And, sorry, what did you expect from an exhibit entitled "Fish Hole"? Iguanadons?
|Because Iguanadon Hole sounded bad.|
"All the animals, except the dolphins, looked sad and depressed. The water was dirty in the penguin pin, and they were living in dog crates and wooden homes that were poorly constructed... One little one was cowering in the shade to hide from the sun. Yes, I realized these are South African penguins, but most the time they are still indoors (think Gatlinburg's aquarium). I wouldn't waste a dime to go to this place. I will never go back as it depressed me to see such sad animals."I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that you felt the dolphins did NOT look sad and depressed because of their smiles? Thankfully, the rest of your well-informed comments revealed a true philosopher with a strong grasp on the life sciences.
Ignoring the fact that the African penguin live in pairs in small burrows or under bushes and rocks in the wild, meaning it's necessary to provide shelters that are easy to clean, can we just address the fact that you think penguins need to mostly be inside? Okay, it's been addressed. Wait wait wait, no, I'm curious. Are you contending that it'd be better to place the penguins inside? I'm confused. Sure, there are great penguin habitats out there that are indoors. Sure, my geographic knowledge is not extensive, so perhaps I should infer that because you Know It All, you are inferring that the entirety of coastal South Africa has some kind of giant roof over it which technically means all African penguins live indoors, and therefore any outdoor zoo habitats are inadequate. Am I right?
I have other questions for you to, such as at what point in your adult life do you think you'll realize the difference between the word "pen" and "pin"?
|Your reaction to this picture was my reaction to the above Trip Advisor report.**|
I know, I know, I'm being a little mean. I'm venting to you, dear readers. Sometimes, you just have to let it out a little. When you're confronted with someone who insists that your training methods are wrong (like the time a girl and her boyfriend spent an entire sea lion show and otter session criticizing how we worked with the animals), or someone tells you that your animal habitats are gross because you use natural seawater and uh, yeah, algae will grow (which is a sign of a HEALTHY AQUARIUM...google it you Know It Alls!) and we will scrub it off, and it will grow back and we will scrub it etc etc, or WORSE, that your animals are uncared for...it takes a huge toll on you. You have to keep in your frustrating and your desire to stand up for yourself.
But wait a second, wait a second. We're (eh, I'm?) getting all worked up here again. There is a silver lining. Yes, there is.
Why are zoos and aquariums in existence? Put down your political lenses and lower your defenses and just agree to this answer: to allow other people to know and learn about the animals in our care so that they may care about their wild counterparts. Are there other reasons some places might have animals? Sure. Nothing is pure. But the bottom line is undebatable (for intelligent people): if there are people who do not care about animals, if there are people who think they know it all, then they are not exposed to the REALITY of animals and the environment.
When we encounter the Non-Animal Lovers and the Know-It-Alls, we have an opportunity to help them change their perspective, even slightly. If one out of hundred of these Horrible Guests pause for a second and go, "Ohhhh...I never knew stingrays had individual personalities! Maybe I shouldn't kill them out of fear!" or, "I always boycotted aquariums that had outdoor penguin exhibits. Now I can focus my efforts and passions on boycotting something worthwhile!" then we have made a difference.
|To echinoderms, too.|
It does feel like an overflowing anger lava boiling up inside when we talk to these types of people, but instead of getting angry, get focused. You might be the voice of reason they listen to. And if you don't, at least you tried. Let it fuel you to continue doing the great work you do, because it's important. It saves animals lives. It inspires hundreds and thousands of other guests who come into your zoo or aquarium and leave feeling excited and ready to make a difference.
Yeah, let's remember that. We recall the Horrible Guests like we recall horrific plane crashes: they are awful when they occur but they do not occur nearly as often as we encounter great guests or safe flights. Keep things in perspective.
And for the Entitled Guests, well, I've struggled to find a happy thought for them while I've written this blog. We can just be reminded to act like decent human beings when we are in similar situations and the roles are reversed. Or, we can just collect the stories and swap them over some beers.
Now the floor is open. Share with me your worst/best (it's hard to tell what it is) Horrible Guest story!
* See what I did there?
** Hint: reaction was not "That's a Hot Chick with Only Feet"