IF YOU LIVE ANYWHERE BETWEEN DC and Boston and you love beaches, there’s a decent chance you’re going to end up on the Jersey Shore this summer. Those of us who are lucky enough to live on the Shore full time are bracing for the waves of tourists, Bennies, and Shoobies. It’s cool: this is what we do. We’re used to the attention.
But if you want to be a good guest while visiting our lovely seaside towns, please understand the following five things.
1. We are nothing like the show.
It has been said countless times, but it’s worth saying once more: no. We are nothing like the show. There are absolutely people that act like the cast of Jersey Shore on the Jersey Shore, but these people are, by-and-large, tourists. Saying that these people are representative of the Shore is akin to saying that New Yorkers like to wear fanny packs, hang out in Times Square, and ask strangers which subway goes to the Statue of Liberty.
It’s worth noting that the majority of the cast members on Jersey Shore are not actually from New Jersey. Of the original cast, only a single one of them (“Sammi Sweetheart”) is actually from the state of New Jersey. The rest are from New York or Rhode Island.
2. We have a complicated relationship with tourists.
Occasionally — just occasionally — you’ll see a bumper sticker or a sign that says “Benny Go Home.” You, dear tourist, are the Benny. The word “Benny” is an acronym for “Bayonne Elizabeth Newark New York,” denoting the typical hometowns of tourists at the northern half of the Jersey Shore (though the term can apply to any tourist). On the south Jersey Shore, tourists are referred to as “Shoobies,” which is an old reference to the days when tourists had to take a ferry to Long Beach Island, and brought their lunches in shoeboxes.
Shore residents aren’t huge fans of the more stereotypical Bennies and Shoobies because they tend to be the type of person you saw on Jersey Shore. Like you, we think those people are nightmares. Except we have to deal with them in person on a daily basis.
At the same time, tourism is a pretty huge part of the economy in Shore towns. And truth be told, we’re pretty great hosts. This is a laid back and accepting place with a pretty cool culture, and we don’t mind sharing that culture. But terrible guests can make even the most welcoming host a bit sour on visitors after a while. So don’t be terrible.
3. You get to party here, but we live here.
No one’s going to judge you for getting drunk at the beach. I live in Asbury Park, where the Anchor’s Bend has an awesome beach bar, and when the summer begins, the first thing my wife and I do is head over and put our toes in the sand while sipping a beer. Partying is fine.
What’s not fine is screaming obscenities while walking through our neighborhoods late at night, puking on our lawns, or starting fights in our places of business. Treat our towns like a friend’s house you’re visiting and hope to return to, not like a motel bed sheet you get to spread your DNA all over before abandoning forever.
4. Yes, you have to pay for the beaches. Just roll with it.
One of the most common complaints I hear from visitors is that in New Jersey, you have to pay for a badge to get access to the beaches. This is, for the most part, unique to New Jersey, and I have to admit being put off when I first came to the Shore, having spent my summers while I was growing up on the comparatively empty (and totally free) beaches on the Gulf coast of Florida.
But then I saw how many people came to our beaches. I saw the trash they left behind. And I saw how much work went into keeping the beaches from becoming disgusting trash pits. I’ve since come around on beach fees.
The beach fees aren’t without their critics, even here on the Shore, though: beach badges were originally designed to keep poorer people off the beaches (though in the late 80’s, the courts ruled that the money collected from selling badges could only be used for beach-related services, like trash cleanup, lifeguard salaries, and policing). And there are plenty of convincing arguments that beaches should be public lands, and that towns should instead raise money through sales taxes.
But regardless of your opinion, beach badges are probably going to be around in Jersey for a good long while. So your best move is to just roll with it. Most of them are less than you’ll spend on lunch anyway.
5. We’re still recovering from Sandy.
Hurricane Sandy was devastating for the Jersey Shore. It caused billions of dollars in damage, and hundreds of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed. This was back in 2012. The news cycle has inevitably moved on from the Superstorm, and the state of New Jersey has made an impressive comeback. But the effects of Sandy are still strongly felt. Thousands of people still haven’t been able to rebuild their homes (many of those people, it’s worth noting did have insurance) three-and-a-half years on, and federal relief money has been distributed extremely slowly. Many towns are still vulnerable to future storms, which climate scientists tell us we can expect in a higher frequency thanks to climate change.
In many ways, things are on the upswing. But that trauma hasn’t faded from the shore as quickly as it faded from the news. So please: if you’re going to visit, be good to our towns, and be good to our people.
Update from the author: An earlier version of this post mistakenly said the term “Shoobie” referred to tourists who wore their shoes on the beach. I have been corrected, and feel properly chastened for getting my etymology lessons from the late-90’s Nickelodeon show Rocket Power.