Essential Etiquette Guide to Antarctica

by Jules on September 14, 2010

Mysterious Antarctica

Antarctica is a place of dichotomy. Life and lifeless, light and lightless, it’s a continent worth study and worth a visit. However, there are some things to keep in mind once you arrive this far south on the planet. Not everyone thinks the same as you, nor do they need to be reminded of their hardship. Here are some key points to keep in mind when you travel to Antarctica, a place that will welcome you and be different than any other place you could ever go to again. Here are seven things to help you out with acting the way you should, should you forget.

7. Antarctica: Don’t Capture the Critters – If you’re lucky enough to land with the cargo plane on holiday in Antarctica, be sure to stay calm when faced with the oh-so-cute penguins. Jumping ship and swimming after them is highly frowned upon. You see, just because the penguin can swim in the frigid waters without clothing, doesn’t mean you can—a double negative doesn’t make it right! If you do intend to jump ship, be sure to wear several warm layers topped off with a striped red-white ring buoy—this makes it easier to find your stiffened body. When you see the tux-wearing critter on land, don’t attempt to capture and pose with it—you will get sent back from whence you came.

6. Antarctica: You Going to Eat That? – If you think it’s tough to get food from the grocer’s aisle to your pantry’s shelf, then you have no idea how hard it is to get foodstuff from another continent to Antarctica. Most likely, you’ll have a tour of one of the few research stations manned on Antarctica by people from around the world—McMurdo or Palmer are but two. When you’re on tour, and if you see an apple or orange bowl sitting in the dining hall for example, do not take a lip-smacking bite and then ask if you can have it. Digging through the fridge or grabbing at pies and such doesn’t show much empathy for the people who live here for months or years at a time. Rather than take, give. Bring fruit, alcohol, reading materials and chocolate and you’ll be a shoe-in for the Medal of Honor. Anything you can forage to give to a “resident” will be much appreciated.

5. Antarctica: No Plunking or Taking – When you’re in the wilderness back home, you may get a staggering urge to deposit bodily waste. We’ve all had the proverbial “call of nature” at some point. In Antarctica, however, it’s not as easy as ducking behind a tree or rock. Anything steamy you plunk down here can and will be measured by scientists. Just as you shouldn’t leave any trace, you should not take either. Bird droppings, feathers, rocks, shells, bones, sediment, sand, snow, water, salt, sticks, pebbles, animals and all vegetation should not be touched. This is actually a law signed in treaty form. Don’t bring plants, animals, seeds, fungi or anything that could take root and grow. No matter how much you’d like to leave your significant other, doing so is punishable by a fine.  Don’t leave or take or disturb.

4. Antarctica: How Much Better It Is - People down here have probably suffered enough. They don’t need you to come from some distant heaven and tell them they are indeed in hell. Some things to avoid rubbing in while south are as follow: 1.) Detailing how much bigger your house is compared to their shared dormitory room. 2.) Talking about how sunny it is back home. 3.) Rubbing in the fact that you live in sunny California or Florida or Spain or Thailand. 4.) Asking how they stand not having any forests. 5.) Agreeing that the TV channels are limited and the Internet is slow. 6.) And, finally, whining how much you miss the amenities you left back home for two whole weeks.

3. Antarctica: Snowmen, Snow Angels and Igloos – If this is your first time seeing so much whiteness, so much snow and so much hardship, don’t go stir crazy. Parting from the group and attempting to build anything from the snow will be frowned upon. Most people down here will not be amazed at a one meter (three foot) snow man. Likely, too, snow angels won’t impress anyone and an igloo that simply looks like a mound of snow will rouse no excitement. Antarctica is a place to understand how people coexist with the environment for the sake of their particular science. It’s not a place to make a playground and let loose all those childhood fantasies.

2. Antarctica: Caught in White-Out – If you came here and your plans don’t work out accordingly, then do not fret. Antarctica is the windiest place on the planet. Often, when there is no snowfall and the skies are blue, there can be blizzards and white-out due to blowing and drifting snow, like shifting desert sands. If you can’t leave the ship or the station for some time, then don’t complain, as this is part of life down here. A good book and fun conversation gets you through any bad weather you may experience.

1. Antarctica: Ask Too Many – People here do get to see the occasional passerby. People like you who are interested in the life and landscape of such a unique continent do come on tours. If you can, try to keep your questions interesting and on topic. Don’t ask every new “local” you meet about their hardships, “Don’t you miss the newspaper?” for example. On the other token, get interested in their personal stories of success and discoveries that keep them glued to such an interesting place. Furthermore, for the sake of those on tour with you, try to come up with new jokes and comments. Entertainment is a beam of light highly valued where the sun doesn’t shine very often.

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