Sunday, January 25, 2015

Funny Things Guests Say: The Ultra Know It All

We've all dealt with know-it-alls in our time, right?

If he knows it all, then why does he have to look it up in a book?

In fact, I will admit it here and now on this electronic format that I am a recovering Know-It-All.  Yes, it's true.  I could pen tomes of stories of me being a complete blabbermouth moron who talks a good game but is just full of hot air.  Several well-intended, figurative smack downs occurred at precise times of my know-it-all moments and helped me learn the power of active listening and why I should just stick to what I really know.

Maybe you, dear reader, have had a Know-It-All past, or even a moment.  I think many of us can relate to being really confident in our knowledge, share it equally confidently (maybe even judgmentally) and then BOOM find out we were WRONNNNGGGG-O.

I tell you all of this because I've written sarcastic, slightly snarky posts about some not-so-pleasant things guests have said or done in this job.  And there is a small minority of people who felt that it was unfair to call out that group of guests, because our job as animal caretakers is to educate the public.  While I whole-heartedly agree with this philosophy, that doesn't change the fact that sometimes, guests say some silly things and every once in a while, it's okay to make fun of those situations.....knowing full well that many of us are guilty of the same transgression.

Even you, little owl!

I adore talking to guests who come through our park.  I get such a thrill out of getting to know new people and finding out their stories, and working at a zoo or aquarium is one of the most perfect places to meet people from all walks of life.  I especially love chatting with fellow animal-lovers, and people who really know what they're talking about.  Zookeepers in general I think enjoy talking to veterinarians, other zookeepers, the well-read "laymen", researchers, doctors, and any sharp patron who shows an interest in the animals under your care.  I've learned a lot from the aforementioned groups of people, from ages Kid to Super Senior.  These guests are not classified as Know-It-Alls (herein referred to as KIAs).

Not this KIA

KIAs charge into your aquarium and demand your full attention for the verbal onslaught they feel they must bestow upon you and your team.  They state facts loudly and confidently that are not only completely incorrect, but have the insinuation that YOU really don't know what you're doing, and THEY are there to correct you.

Yes, we could confuse the park patron who asks you questions you know they already know the answers to.  But you would be incorrect to label them a KIA.  This type of guest is a Pseudo-KIA; on the surface they appear as such, but their intention is simply to share information benignly, albeit in a socially awkward fashion.

Are there any KIA keas?

The true KIA can be distinguished by the need to shrink your Psyche down to an infinitesimally small size while simultaneously inciting your Super Anger Defense (SAD) response.  The SAD response must of course be sturdily shoved under your Professionalism layer, since it's a big no-no to intellectually b**** slap any guest.

Here are some actual quotes from KIAs in my zoological career experience:

"How can you allow the dolphins to live in a pool where they can't sleep? There are no ledges for them to rest on.  It's cruel to force them to swim in a deep pool all day and all night.  They are MAMMALS for crying out loud!"

"There is no reason you should put your otters* in a heated habitat in the winter.  They are perfectly suited for cold weather."

"You dolphin trainers only tell us we can't feed dolphins off our boats because you want us to spend money feeding them here.  Why should I pay to feed them here when I can do it in the wild for free?"

"How can you sleep at night knowing these dolphins' family members were murdered in Japan?"

Whatchoo talkin about

KIAs are uncommon but memorable.  And in so many cases, the only thing you can do is politely, honestly, and sincerely answer their questions in hopes that maybe you will correct their misconceptions.  However, people who are at this stage of KIAness, where they will approach a complete stranger with completely incorrectly information, are not usually the most willingly open-minded people.   Most KIAs respond to any kind of gentle correction (even if it's not framed as a correction) with extremely rude defensiveness, and you spend the rest of your day thinking about three things:




Snacks: the secret weapon to dealing with jerks

It's like when you're driving and you see people do completely horrific thing.  Like semi trucks tailing you and honking at you in the left lane on the Interstate, or people who rudely cut you off, or run red lights.  But oh, your left blinker light goes out without you knowing and BOOM, you're pulled over and given a huge citation.  Where are the cops when the morons are out driving?  WHERE IS THE JUSTICE IN THE WORLD WHEN THE REALLY CRAZY PEOPLE ARE OUT?

How many of you animal trainers/caretakers have looked a KIA in the face and wondered if they'll ever get put in their place?

But oh, dear readers, have I a satisfying story for you.

Just as in those very rare moments when a police officer sees the jerk who just swerved in front of you and slammed on his break and NAILS HIM right in front of you, I too have a story of gratification.

A few weeks ago, a KIA visited our park.  I did not personally interact with him, but heard about him from one of my coworkers.  A middle-aged man with his family approached one of our trainers who was feeding our African penguins.  He began his KIA dialogue with a barrage of questions about The Substrate of our habitat.

KIA: What substrate do you use for the habitat?

Trainer: You mean the smooth rocks in the exhibit?

We used a macro-mineral texturally smooth substrate suitable.  It rocks. Ha ha.

The KIA further questions her on the appropriateness of the Rock Substrate for a penguin species.  And at that point, the Trainer knows she is not speaking with someone who knows anything about African penguins, since the species lives on the pebbly beaches of coastal South Africa.  And she explained as such, but not to the satisfaction of the KIA.  He continued to criticize the park (and this poor trainer, by proxy) for its use of incorrect flooring for animals who would not be "naturally" exposed to that kind of material.  I suppose that makes sense, since KIAs in zoos all know that penguins spend their lives hiding in glacier crevices from polar bears.

He then inquired about the large female loggerhead sea turtle who lives in the habitat next to our penguins.  Her name is Floater and she is aptly named.  Like so many rescued sea turtles in zoos and aquariums, a traumatic injury resulted in air trapped underneath her carapace.  This is almost always an irreversible situation, and she will never be able to regulate her buoyancy.  In Floater's case, her butt always floats.  Hence, her disability deemed her unreleasable (per a government agency).  We get a lot of questions about Floater, so the Trainer did not balk when she heard the KIA inquiry.

But what began as a simple question devolved into a line of questioning known well to all KIA kin, in which our dear guest confidently stated (with a slight inflection at the end of his sentence to imply a question when its intention was clearly declarative):

"Haven't you considered injecting this turtle with silicon so that her buoyancy may be returned to normal?"

The Trainer answered that of course! Eureka! Why hadn't we thought of that solution! It's so simple! It's so genius! We'll get to it straight away!

I have seen the light!

Ha, ha.  Just kidding.  She politely explained that she was not a part of the team who cared for Floater, that she would happily get one of her caretakers to further explain the situation.  Instead of being satisfied with this answer, the KIA's critical questions continued.  He scoffed, and asked who our vet was.  When the Trainer told him about our vet staff, led by one very influential Dr. Forrest Townsend, the KIA asked where he was based out of.

"Right here, actually," the Trainer replied.

"Oh," scoffed the KIA again.  "Well I've never heard of him."

Oh, you've gotten me again with your superior intelligence, sir KIA!

While it greatly pains all zookeepers to learn that their answers, opinions, vet staff, or training philosophy is not up to snuff with KIA guests, we somehow manage to overcome our tremendous depression and bottomless pit of insecurity to hold it together to get through to the next day of our miserable little lives.  Instead of trying to defend a pointless topic, the victimized Trainer redirected the conversation to alert the man that she enjoyed their little chat, but she had to continue on with her duties.  

"What else is there to see here?" he asked.  What ho, a question to which this KIA has no answer? Is it by some miracle?

"Our 12:30 sea lion show is the next full show.  That is at our sea lion stadium." 

The Trainer then went on her merry way and informed me that there was a potentially difficult guest in the park.  She told me some of the questions/statements he'd made, which better prepares me and the team how to handle the situation better.  It's pretty nice to know that hey, the old dude in the red shirt is asking really weird questions, so that it doesn't take you off guard.

At the 12:30 sea lion show, my role was that of an A-B spotter.  While I wasn't able to watch the crowd like a hawk, I could at times see some of the people sitting and watching our show.  There wasn't a very big crowd that day, but I also didn't want to pull my eyes off of the stage for very long being in the position I was in.  At the end of the show, I scanned the crowd again and could not find anyone matching the KIA's description.  Those of us involved in the show gossiped about it.  Did you see the guy?? No.  Maybe.  Maybe he left? Who knows.  Wait, what did he say about Floater again?

Gossip, the stuff of zookeepers and marine mammal trainers everywhere

And then, the Trainer who had the distinct pleasure of getting to know the KIA ran up to us, smiling and almost out of breath.  

"YOU GUYS!"  she said.

"What?? Where is the KIA??!" we wanted to know.

"I TOLD HIM THAT THE NEXT SEA LION SHOW WAS AT 12:30," she said, eager and beaming.



"That's what we thought!"


"Where?? Where???" we asked, desperately.

And she told us, the answer being as sweet as any donut I could imagine.  The KIA who had scrutinized our park, who had patronized our staff member, disapproved of our "unknown" veterinarian team, who represented all KIAs we'd ever encountered at any zoo who could spit in our face and insult us….because they knew everything ever, or at least more than any of us knew….

….was standing in front of our harbor seal habitat.  Waiting for the sea lion show.  Waiting. For. The. Sea. Lion. Show.  

At the harbor seal exhibit.

How many times do I have to tell you, I AM NOT A FREAKING SEA LION?!?!?!?!

If it were any other non-KIA guest, we wouldn't have laughed.  We wouldn't have felt vindicated and a little Mean Girlsish.  But I'd be lying if I said we didn't feel a slight twinge of happiness that this guy had made such an obvious mistake that no KIA would ever be caught dead making (or admitting to make).   The intense satisfaction of just the image in my head of this pompous windbag impatiently waiting for the sea lion show to start, watching our harbor seals cruise around was hard to describe.

Someone wound up going out there to talk to them in a friendly manner, ask if they got a chance to see the sea lion show (to which the man replied no, with a confused look on his face), and then told them that the next sea lion show was at 3:30, and gave them directions to the correct habitat.  Because the KIA made no mention of being clearly confused between what a seal and sea lion was, we did not choose to highlight this mistake.  Because really, no matter how obnoxious he was towards us, it really didn't give us any right to intentionally and mean-spiritedly humiliate him.

He and his family left long before the last show.  But his story remained.  So while I can get frustrated at his KIA disposition, it provided some comic relief.  More importantly, it stuck out enough in our minds in a way that only happens when an event is sporadic.  That is to say, KIAs are not very common.  The common guest denominator at zoos and aquariums are passionate people with a wide range of knowledge who come to see, learn, and care about the natural world.  So when a weirdo comes through, it's nice to take pause after a frustrating encounter and find the hilarity within it.  And appreciate that much more the vast majority of patrons with whom we really enjoy interacting.


* Of the Asian small-clawed variety, who are not adapted for our 15 degree winter nights

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