Shark Week Etiquette

Shark Week started last night, and it runs through Saturday. For millions of Americans, the Discovery Channel’s annual weeklong marathon of shark-themed documentaries is must-see TV. For many of America’s shark scientists, Shark Week represents something more, and the associated rituals and complicated emotions it stirs can be confusing for their non-scientist friends. We asked David Shiffman, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Miami studying shark ecology and conservation, to explain his Shark Week traditions.

You mentioned “complicated emotions.” How do shark scientists feel about Shark Week?
Many of us have a love-hate relationship with Shark Week. It’s always exciting to see our favorite animals on TV. However, in recent years, Shark Week’s reputation for factual accuracy is, to put it charitably, mixed. Shark Week can also be exhausting for us. I’ll be watching every episode and providing live fact-checking and commentary on twitter, and I’ve done about 20 media interviews so far. So if you attend a Shark Week viewing party with shark researchers, expect lots of surprisingly loud outbursts—some of joy, and some of frustration or even anger.

Wait, a Shark Week viewing party? Is that really a thing that people do?
Yes.

REALLY?
Yes! Really! Is that really any weirder than attending a Super Bowl viewing party when your team isn’t even playing?

Are there any taboo subjects one should avoid discussing with shark researchers at a Shark Week viewing party?
Hoo boy, there sure are! These are pretty generally applicable to any interactions with marine biologists, but emotions can be particularly raw during the “Most Wonderful Week”. If you’re talking with a graduate student, don’t ask when they are graduating—if it’s soon, they’ll proactively tell you, if it’s something they don’t want to discuss because they’re frustrated by lack of progress, they won’t bring it up.  Don’t ask if they are featured in any Shark Week specials—again, if its good news, they’ll bring it up.  And you shouldn’t ever ask any scientist why they went to graduate school in the sciences instead of medical school medical school.

Oh, this is a big one: don’t ask why we chose to study sharks and not dolphins. Many shark researchers hate dolphins due largely to public misunderstanding of the differences between dolphins and sharks.  Also because people ask us if we are getting graduate degrees in marine biology to become dolphin trainers at Sea World (that job does not require a graduate degree in marine science). People think dolphins are all sweet and innocent and that sharks are scary and mean, but did you know that some male dolphins intentionally kill newborns so that those newborns’ mothers will be more willing to mateThey also torture and kill babies of other species. Dolphins don’t really “save” swimmers from sharks, and in fact sometimes try to rape or drown swimmers. They also have lots of STDs. See, you got me started ranting about dolphins. Don’t do that.

What should I talk about with shark scientists?
Most marine biologists enjoy our work and really enjoy talking about it. Ask us what we’re studying, what our favorite part of our job is, if we have any good stories about working with sharks. Also, most of us are regular people who have lives outside of our jobs, so feel free to ask about whatever you’d talk about with anyone else you’re meeting at a party, like movies, or what your town’s local sportsball team has been up to lately.

Are there any traditional Shark Week viewing party foods or drinks?
Any truly authentic Shark Week viewing party feast should include a seal. If you can’t get a Marine Mammal Protection Act exemption, though, you could always go with gummy sharks, shark fin cupcakes, or shark-shaped watermelon.

To wash it all down, you’ll need some sharky alcohol. Our great nation is blessed with an increasing variety of beers featuring sharks on the label, including Landshark Lager, Lost Coast Brewery’s Great White Lager, and anything by Dogfish Head Brewery.  Be sure to open these beers with a shark bottle opener. There are some liquors with sharks on the label, including mako vodka. If you aren’t a purist, it’s ok to use liquor featuring any kind of marine life, like Black Seal or Kraken. My personal favorite shark-themed mixed drink recipe is the SharkNado, which is made with sparkling cider, sprite, whiskey, rum, and vodka-soaked gummy sharks.  And for your mixed drinks, be sure to use shark fin shaped ice cubes.

 

Soaking gummy sharks in vodka in preparation for making a pitcher of SharkNados. Photo: David Shiffman

Soaking gummy sharks in vodka in preparation for making a pitcher of SharkNados. Photo: David Shiffman

Should I bring a gift to a Shark Week viewing party?
This isn’t strictly necessary, but host gifts are always appreciated at any house party. There are lots of shark-y gifts available.  You can even get a shark-y gift for the host’s pet!

Photo: David Shiffman

Photo: David Shiffman

What should I wear to a Shark Week viewing party?
The dress code is usually Shark Chic. Just wear your favorite article of clothing that has sharks on it.

An example of Shark Chic dress- my fiancée, my friends and I on our way to see Jaws in theaters.

An example of Shark Chic dress- my fiancée, my friends and I on our way to see Jaws in theaters.

Um… what if I don’t have any clothing with sharks on it?
Hahahaha, good one!  I’m pretty sure that everyone has clothes with sharks on them.

What do I do if a situation arises that isn’t covered in this guide?
Feel free to ask me about any Shark Week viewing party etiquette, or any question related to sharks, on my twitter (LINK: Twitter.com/WhySharksMatter) or Facebook Fan Page (Facebook.com/WhySharksMatter). I’m always happy to answer people’s questions.

Happy Shark Week, everyone!

If You Thought Hugging Was Complicated, Kissing Is Worse

Last week we covered the slightly fraught topic of how to navigate the world of friendly greetings when you’re not much of a hugger, which brings us to an even more complicated version of greetings–kissing. I had a really embarrassing time on vacation in Paris with a cousin’s French fiance, who went in for the double kiss as I sort of frantically waved my arms in a hug attempt while also kissing the air and I think his neck? It was bad, guys. And according to this map by Radical Cartography, I am not alone in being totally confused about the protocol. The map was made in 2013 but whatever, we just found it, and it’s totally relevant.

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 11.58.07 AM

 

How are you supposed to know? Why is it spread out like this? WHO KISSES FIVE TIMES?? The lesson I’m pretty much getting out of this is never greet anyone in France.

Polishing Silver

Not to get too WASPy, but if you’re going to have and use real silver trays and teapots and all that other good stuff that you inherited from your mom and grandma, you should probably give it a good polish once in a while. And while I wouldn’t exactly call it bad ETIQUETTE, serving your guests with tarnished silver pieces (especially silverware) is definitely bad hosting.

However, polishing silver is really easy, doesn’t take much time, and gives you a high level of satisfaction, making it the best kind of chore.

Ugh so gross and tarnished.

Ugh so gross and tarnished.

The first step is to go out and get some silver polish if you don’t already have it.

Silver 2

Read the directions for the brand you get carefully, but usually you apply the polish, rub rub rub the piece, then buff it off with a clean cloth. Sometimes you rinse with water too.

Rub rub, buff buff

Rub rub, buff buff

You can also buy special horsehair brushes to polish intricate details on your silver pieces. I only know this because my mom was FURIOUS when I used hers to scrape baked on gunk off a pan when I was about 13.

So shiny!

So shiny!

Once your silver is all nice and shiny you can put it out for display or store it away. If you store it, buy some Anti-Tarnish Strips and pop them into the container with the silver so it will still be all shiny when you pull it out again.